New York is now the best place for technology on the planet, according to a new study by real estate brokerage firm Savills Plc.
New York came out on top in an analysis of the 30 top global tech cities. The city’s large pool of talent and sizable volume of venture capital helped it beat out San Francisco for the No. 1 spot.
This is a fantastic win for New York, but it’s been a long time coming.
In November of 2011, I was named New York's first “Entrepreneur At Large” for economic development.
New York City Economic Development President President Seth Pinsky made the announcement, saying: "New York City is steadily establishing itself as a global leader in innovation and entrepreneurship -- a sector of our economy that is certain to be a future source of high-quality jobs.”
But inside, it was far from a sure bet. New York had been the world capital of finance, fashion, and media. But fast internet connectivity had moved many finance jobs away from Wall Street, and the new global marketplace combined with New York’s high cost of real estate and living had blown a hole in the side of the old economic drivers.
So even as EDC opened its arms to tech, there were a number of city leaders doubling down on med-tech as the next big thing.
I set out to understand why even New York’s startup entrepreneurs were completing school here and then heading out to San Fransisco to join their first tech company. New York was leaking its best assets out of the city: the vibrancy, and youth that had the audacity to think differently, ask hard questions, and then work for months without sleep until a crazy idea was turned into code.
New York desperately needed tech, but did tech need New York?
It turns out, it did.
Mayor Mike Bloomberg knew the city needed to graduate more engineers. NYU, Columbia, and CUNY all had programs. But in a move that can only be described as pure Bloomberg, the city set out to invite a new big-name university to set up shop. With a mix of city funds and real estate, Bloomberg opened a competition to build a new high-tech engineering school.
In the end, there were seven bids. The rumor mill had Stanford leading -- but in the end, the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute won the competition, after first MIT and then Stanford dropped out. The process, which began in 2008, was announced in 2011 as I began pitching New York to a curious but skeptical technology community.
While most politicians are looking to promote their accomplishments and launch projects that can have big public ribbon-cutting ceremonies during their time in office, the Cornell Tech project was evidence of Bloomberg’s long-term vision for the city. The project launched its first classes on Roosevelt Island in 2017, long after Bloomberg’s term as mayor ended in 2013.
So why is New York’s role as a tech center on the rise today, even as distributed teams and new tech hubs are heating up?
Back in 2011, here’s what I told entrepreneurs who were considering where to plant their roots: ”In the early days of the web, tech was looking to solve problems with a mix of engineering prowess, deep capital pockets, engineering infrastructure Fat pipes and heavy hardware resources.
“Now that web is built, and the next generation of startup successes won’t rely on pure tech. It will be so-called hyphen tech: tech plus finance, tech plus food, tech plus fashion, tech plus music and entertainment. The engineering skills matter, but so do human skills.”
New York’s diversity — the often cacophonous mix of sounds, languages and disciplines — provides a hot-house environment for innovation.
In 2011, when we would bring in busloads of engineers and give them a tour of New York, I watched the early days of the city’s technology renaissance plant seeds. “Sure you can go to San Fransisco,” we told them. Lots of great stuff happening out there. “But in New York, you’ll find your creative energy getting charged up, not just by tech -- but by all the things that tech can help innovate and reimagine.”
It didn’t work every time, but it did work enough times to show. And now, some of those early startup guys are moving back East.
Now New York is a tech leader. Google, Amazon, Apple, and Facebook all have big campuses here. And Amazon decided to place 25,000 new employees in Long Island City, just across the East River from Roosevelt Island, an easy ferry ride away.
The synergies of new startups, big tech, and an engaged venture community are a pretty powerful elixir.
So, looking back on the almost 10 years it took to get here, I can’t wait to see what New York looks like 10 years from now.