Know-how and Networking: Insight from a General Assembly Course

As New York City continues to attract a competitive stream of innovators, investors and techies, all hoping to slice a piece of the big apple startup pie, it can seem a daunting and difficult task for novices to gain steady ground.

Thankfully for New York startup newbies, the city provides almost as many resources for those looking to start up as startups themselves.

Startup courses and workshops abound in the city, covering topics that range from growing an idea and honing your skills to securing financing and managing a staff.  And these educational offerings are not just for listening to lectures, they also provide an exceptional opportunity for networking with the like-minded.

Hosted Friday, September 13, 2013 by General Assembly (GA) in Manhattan and presented by Liz Vollman, Classes and Workshops Producer at GA, “Introduction to the New York Startup Community” provided a thorough and interactive discussion of how to maneuver in the city’s entrepreneurial environment whether you are looking to find an idea to develop or already have one.

Vollman kicked off the course with wise words from well-known Silicon Valley entrepreneur and New York native, Steve Blank, “‘A startup is not a smaller version of a large company.  It’s a temporary organization designed to search for a scalable business model.’”  The statement exhibits the essential elements of planning, evolution and individualization as they relate to building a brand, a business—a startup.

While startups, even those sharing the same industry, may be as unique and different as fingerprints, they share the same revolutionary spirit.  Vollman spoke to the importance, particularly in New York, of past startups possessing the ability to “pave the way” for present and future endeavors.  This support, she continued, is a large reason the city promotes and is “very healthy” for startups.

Those within the startup community also assist each other through offering extensive opportunities for productive socializing (group or one-on-one) where experiences are shared and contacts are networked.  Vollman listed “mentors” as one of the groups that “defines an ecosystem.”

So, how do you build your network when you’re looking to get started?  There are many ways to “get involved in the community” as discussed by Vollman, including to “sign up for newsletters, attend meetups, happy hours, and demo days, participate in hackathons and Startup Weekends, and blog about your experiences, adventures, and learnings.”

Those starting up in New York need networking and they need know-how.  Blending the two in a vast array of informational gatherings brings hosts, instructors and students together to interactively expand their realm of possibilities.  GA and Vollman provide such opportunities on a regular basis, many which are free of charge and open to the public.  Further details on GA can be found at https://generalassemb.ly/.

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The startup ecosystem may drive NYC’s future economic growth

Concentrated in a narrow band running through the heart of midtown and downtown Manhattan, a robust new industry has been developing in the wake of the financial crisis.

Colloquially dubbed the “Silicon Alley,” an ecosystem of about 1000 (mostly) tech startups has been gobbling up capital that, prior to 2007, was largely locked up in the financial industry, according to an article by angel investor and tech entrepreneur Paul Grossinger.

To illustrate the scale of this reallocation of resources, consider that the volume of venture capital investment in this city has grown an astonishing 160 percent in the past decade, vastly outpacing the Silicon Valley’s 30 percent growth and positioning New York as the second largest site of venture investment in the country. In 2011 alone, investors injected $3.1billion into the city’s economy.

While the Great Recession continues to leave most of the city’s economy reeling (the unemployment rate is around 8.4 percent), the startup scene has been a rapid generator of jobs. Between 2005 and 2010, this ecosystem has helped boost IT jobs by 30 percent, to around 90,000. For perspective, this rate is ten times that of the broader New York City labor market.

Another window into job growth in this field is the app economy. Nationwide, apps have created 450,000 jobs since 2007. About 10 percent of those jobs have been located here in New York City. Importantly, jobs in apps or IT pay well. An entry-level software programmer, for example, can make as much as $75,000 annually.

Luckily, New Yorkers need not be tech savvy to find roles in this new economy. The digital products of the startup industry are designed to serve a wide variety of industries, creating demand for staff with expertise in fields including social media, e-commerce, digital advertising, education, healthcare and finance.

Despite the industry’s success, New York startups are shackled by a number of fundamental problems, according to a report by the Office of the Manhattan Borough President. The first, and perhaps least unsurprising, is a general talent shortage among technical roles.  Another problem common among major cities is an excess of bureaucratic red tape ill equipped to the needs of nimble startup firms.

A bit more unsettling is that Manhattan is hamstrung by “appallingly slow, spotty internet access,” according to the report.  The fourth challenge is that the city’s infrastructure hasn’t adapted well to the gradual shifts in the city’s primary job centers (such as the growth of Brooklyn). Finally, as every New Yorker knows, “the rent is too damn high.”

The Bloomberg administration has already made moves to help alleviate some of these problems, including appointing the city’s first chief digital officer, providing financial support for tech incubators, creating the New York City Entrepreneurial Fund, and launching the Tech Apprenticeship Program at CUNY to train new talent, according to the report. Private institutions have also kicked in, with Cornell’s development a tech campus on Roosevelt Island and NYU’s creation of the Center for Urban Science and Progress.

While it’s unclear exactly how the industry will change and develop in the near future, one thing is relatively certain, said NYU entrepreneurship professor Luke Williams in a Q&A.  “The ecosystem is going to continue to grow. We have barely scratched the surface.”

Startup Studio will be tracking this development every step of the way.

Putting Your Startup to Work or Putting Yourself to Work in a Startup: General Assembly Presents Ways to Accelerate Your Career

With economic conditions uncertain, and millions of people remaining either unemployed or underemployed, it may seem difficult or even impossible to stray from the norm into the ever more volatile arena of startups. However, innovative spirits may be surprised to learn just how many directions are available in terms of developing a startup or securing work with one.

The General Assembly course, “Introduction to the New York Startup Community,” presented Friday, September 13, 2013 by Liz Vollman, Classes and Workshops Producer, not only provided an interactive discussion of resources for those just getting started, but also a forum for tools to put your startup to work or yourself to work in a startup.

There are many areas of interest, expertise and development when it comes to startups, and Vollman noted a few of these differing industries as retail, fashion, finance and film, among others. She continued in stating the underlying similarity to be technology and its use, which she described as, “entrepreneurs trying to figure out how to move these industries forward.”

For those that have advanced an idea from their selected industry or industries into the beginning stages of work or operation, there exists support—while you may be a visionary, you are not alone!

One such resource available throughout NYC, according to Vollman is co-working space. These spaces are available with numerous organizations throughout the city, and most provide office space, technology, and opportunities to present what you’re working on and network for financing. In terms of selecting a co-working space, Vollman said, “Try it on; see if you like the community.” She continued in providing information for a number of these spaces, a few to include, WeWork (wework.com), Green Desk (green-desk.com) and GA themselves (generalassemb.ly/).

Accelerators and incubators, as next mentioned by Vollman, take their support of startups steps further. Many, though not all, actually provide investment in addition to advanced resources of getting a startup to the next level at a much faster pace. She listed TechStars (techstars.com) as a top New York organization of this kind, along with NYC Seed (nycseed.com) and DreamIt Ventures (dreamitventures.com), though emphasized the competitive nature of securing this kind of support.

If you’re not quite ready to put everything you’ve got into building a startup of your own or if you’re looking for a job, perhaps even a career change, you may be more of a match for startup employment than you think. According to Vollman, startups are not simply looking for techies and engineers, and one common misconception as noted in the presentation is that “only developers get a good job at startups.” While these types of positions are obviously important to most startups, there is just more to it than that.

Sales, marketing, social media and particularly, customer service, as explained by Vollman, are all areas that startups aim to hire qualified applicants for. She continued in giving the example of Zappos, a startup that boasts top notch customer service and stands apart based on this. Startups, just like any other business, want to attract and retain employees that help create value for their organization.

If you are interested in exploring employment opportunities with New York startups, several resources given by Vollman include, rapportive (rapportive.com), The Muse (themuse.com) and Path.to (path.to/jobs).

A first step in deciding whether the NYC startup work realm is right for you may be to further explore the available support; and of course, if you need more time—take it. Jumping into building a startup or transitioning into a non-traditional workspace may take a leap of faith, but if you utilize the resources available to you, you may just land on your feet and take off.

Further information on GA can be found at https://generalassemb.ly/.

“10 Years From Now I Will be in Outer Space Doing the Same Thing”

How brilliant it is to turn your passion into a career. We all dream about having a job doing what we love but most of the time it is not the case. As a music lover I’d always hoped to be in a band though I don’t play any instruments and, to be honest, I really am a horrible singer.

Though I can never become a musician, I tend to meet artistic people who have a great passion in music. Just recently I got to know someone who owns a recording business in downtown Manhattan. I am curious about what kind of magic can be triggered when artist meets entrepreneur so I went ahead to interview him in his recording studio on West 29th street.

Redford owns four of these guitars the rest comes from his team member and community friends

Redford owns four of these guitars the rest comes from his team member and community friends–photo credit: Ning Zhou

Redford Reid Studios is located on the 11th floor in one of those sky-high buildings in Manhattan. There is no sign, no poster, nothing that tells you inside this normal or even ugly looking building there is an awesome-looking recording studio.

“When people enter this door, I want them to feel like they are in a different world,“ says Adam Redford Parker, the founder of Redford Reid Studios (RRS), while closing the door behind him.

Originally from St. Louis, Missouri, Redford moved to New York in 2002 to pursue his passion in music. Redford started playing guitar when he was 13 or 14. “Music reminds me I have a soul, it has healing powers,” Redford said. Redford has been in many different bands ever since 2001 and a server car accident happened last year put him in hospitalization, which made him have to quit from the band.  However, Redford’s love for music didn’t stop there. The car accident was actually a catalyst that made Redford muscled his way into recording business.

The front door with painted matrix on it

The front door with painted matrix on it–photo credit: Ning Zhou

Back in 2007 Redford started his first rehearsing business for New York City bands. Starting in 2011 Redford branched his business into preproduction field, in which he and his team members help write and record songs. When talking about his studio Redford is very proud of this piece of arts. “It’s the vibe of this place that attracts people to come here. It’s professional, youthful, relaxed, and humble,” Redford said, “the vibe and the people here is what makes us different from other recording studios.”

Redford is dedicated to helping serious and professional artists who want to maintain their own artistic integrity and make a name for themselves. “We want ambitious people who want to push the boundaries of music,“ Redford said.

The marketing strategy for RRS can be concluded in just three words: word of mouth. Although RRS throws studio parties to get people come to network it is the passing words that help Redford Reid Studios earn a good reputation and bring in the business. “Keep it simple is very important,“ Redford said.

Redford told me that he would love to have the studio as long as possible and in five or ten years “I will be in outer space recording music if sounds travels in space with the advancement of technology,” Redford said. He looks forwards to the reincarnation of his studio in five to ten years but still it will have the same business model. “Audiences may or may not change but we will still be doing the same business with same passion,“ Redford said.

The control room

The control room–photo credit: Ning Zhou

Some advice Redford gave to people in their 20s and who want to become entrepreneurs is to think about what you spend most of your free time doing, ask yourself what you really like, and be passionate about the business you are involved with.

“Remember, at the end of each mountain you climb there is always a bigger mountain. The questions won’t get smaller or easier, however, the climbing will get more and more rewarding.“ Redford said.

Legal piece of advice for start-ups

attorney 1When starting a new business everyone is apprehensive about its success. But one thing no one wants to get into is legal complications. One of the key indicators of a successful business is when it is free of any legal tangle.

Gregory Dell’aquila, organizer at the Mission 50 Workspaces Hoboken, New Jersey, who aims to aid this process, held a start-up meeting with legal expert, Dror Futter from SorinRand LLP, a New York-based corporate law firm which tends to clients in sectors such as finance and technology.

The meeting stressed on the 10 most important things an attorney should inform the individuals looking to start their own businesses. The event was attended by lawyers, bankers, entrepreneurs, financial planners and analysts.

Futter started off by explaining that individuals realize the difference between an LLC and a corporate entity. It is important to know how the firm is going to be registered, what the trademark/logo of the firm should be.

“Always pay your taxes and pay to people who you are entitled to,” he said.

The speaker also stressed the importance of data privacy especially for healthcare, insurance related firms. He also went over by explaining the difference between hiring a consultant and an employee.

When asked how successful he thinks his lectures are, Futter replied with a smile, “Inevitably after a lot of programs, I do get a phone call or two telling me what I spoke in the lecture was helpful. This is quite rewarding.”

The event was insightful for most of the individuals.

“I attended the event because I realize the importance of legal matters when starting one’s own business.  I have several questions that I need to have answered by a legal expert and was hoping to find some answers,” says Carmen Bonilla, who previously worked in insurance and financial services and is currently looking to start her own consulting business.

“Whenever I get an opportunity, I attend such events in the hope of making contacts for my business,” said an investment banker who is venturing into the world of entrepreneurship.

Photo by Purva Chitnis

‘Start-up City’: How NYC Hopes To Foster Entrepreneurship

Discussions about startups usually include mentions of incubators and accelerators and venture capitalists (oh my!). But New York City itself has also taken note of that entrepreneurial spirit. In 2012, Manhattan Borough President (and current Democratic candidate for New York City comptroller) Scott Stringer compiled a report to assess the challenges startups in the city face. The objective being, of course, to then tackle to those issues.

The report identified the following five problems:

  • Talent shortage
  • Bureaucratic inefficiency
  • Consistent connectivity
  • Inferior infrastructure
  • Unaffordable atmosphere

As the cliché goes, the first step toward solving a problem is to identify it. The report, however, sought to go further and make recommendations with input from “key stakeholders.”

Interestingly, the recommendations go beyond attempts to aid current entrepreneurs and also focus on issues such as education from an early age. As the report says, skills — “from computer technology and coding to financial literacy and the basics of business — will serve all of our students well regardless of their chosen career path.” The argument in favor of more STEM-focused (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) is hardly a new one, but notable in the context of fostering entrepreneurship in the city.

Infrastructure and resources are also important issues, and the report particularly emphasizes access to internet and improving connectivity — which has been a goal in many cities outside the context of small business. In some senses, this is a more palatable challenge with more plausible short-term implementation than, say, overhauling the school curriculum.

However, a report coming from an elected official is not without its political aims. In this case, immigration takes center stage, with Stringer arguing for passing immigration legislation (the DREAM Act with a pathway to citizenship) and altering the way visas and Green Cards are allotted. Beyond the political scope, these are goals that can be achieved only through the country’s legislative process and differ vastly from other recommendations (such as education).

While any given report may be filled with grand ideas, they are just that: ideas. Which leaves the other crucial part: execution. After all, identifying problems means the objective is to resolve them.

[Photo via Flickr / chrisjroos]

East Meets West: New York City And Silicon Valley Startups By The Numbers

The startup world has typically been associated with Silicon Valley. Increasingly, however, New York City has become its East Coast counterpart — making for an interesting comparison. While the startup ecosystems in both cities share much in common, differences (such as gender ratio) are worth taking a look at…

Below is a comparison of some aspects (based on data via Startup Genome):

Dear scientists, here’s an app that will help you work better, faster, smarter

Dear scientists, listen up! Did you go looking for a chemical in the lab to find that the lab has ran out of it? Or accidentally forgot to attach a worksheet to your journal? There might be an app that will help you with that and more.

Benchpals, a NYU Poly startup which focuses on laboratory management has developed an app, specifically designed for scientists who work in labs. Designed by material chemistry doctoral students themselves, BenchPals is designed to help scientists and students manage inventories, data management for their lab experiments. The app is in the testing phase.

Founders Ching Yao Yang and Jasmine Yume. Photo credit: Srividya K

Founders Ching Yao Yang and Jasmin Hume. Photo credit: Srividya K

Started by Jasmine Hume, Ching Yao Yang and Raul Catena, the idea for the app was conceived while working in the lab. “The idea for it came while working. I realized that while working, I use my phone a lot for posting videos, listening to music because some experiments take 3-6 hours. And I started using calculators, timers simultaneously and realized there is no product that combines these elements on a phone. We also have budget constraints and that’s the moment we thought that we want to combine these elements together,” said Ching Yao Yang, originally from Taiwan, who moved to New York five years ago to pursue his masters in biomedical engineering.

The app will help scientists and students with the way that they work in labs by organizing different things in one place. Inventory and data management are two aspects that this app focuses on. “There is also one thing that is specific to people who work in labs which is managing chemical inventories. Shelves contain thousands of chemicals stored, imagine your kitchen, it’s just like that,” said Hume. “A lot of these things have expiration dates and a lot of them are hazardous and you really need to keep track of what you have and what you don’t and that also makes it more efficient in terms of purchasing,” said Hume, a Swedish American who grew up in Manhattan.

In terms of funding, BenchPals received a small funding from the NYU Venture Fund and from some contests that they entered. Hume and Yang believe that their full-time student status put them at a disadvantage from the funding point of view as investors are unwilling to fund students. “We are incredibly lean. We have spent no money at all. We are fortunate enough to build a good team in the beginning with people having complementary strengths. It’s all sweat equity. We are in a unique position because we are full time students and we have made connections with investors ,relationships we are looking forward to foster but it is also apparent to me that investors are not going to fund people who are full time students and they have been honest with us,” said Hume.

Going forward, as a part of their future plan, BenchPals plans to hire a business person on board, continue working on the app and their labs and keep entering contests.

Dress to Code: Fashion Your Ideas Technically

Who doesn’t like fall in New York City? Crispy days start with football season and a sense of fashion. As Big Apple turns on its Runway mode, a group of people with brilliant designing ideas were gathering together for a one-day hackathon last Saturday in Flatiron, Manhattan.

Organized by General Assembly and sponsored by Glamour magazine and Council of Fashion Designer of America (CFDA), the concept of fashion hackathon is to team up software developers and fashion designers to create software projects with a better user interface (UI) and user experience (UX).

“Yes, it’s a competition and we’ll have different prizes for our top three winners.”

On the left: Cindi Leive; on the right: Steven Kolb

Cindi Leive (left); Steven Kolb (right).

The event was started with greetings from Steven Kolb, CEO of CFDA, and Cindi Leive, Editor-in-Chief of Glamour, along with a series of presentations about Application Programming Interface (API) by programming experts from multiple perspectives, including Facebook, Tumblr, Gilt, Aviary, Glamour and Hacker League.

A programmer from Aviary were presenting API

A programmer from Aviary was presenting API.

Attendees majorly consisted of software developers, fashion designers, and a few of free-lancers. During this one-day session, they all actively shared their thoughts with each other.

“I really like the event, as I always did with all the events from General Assembly,” says a developer who works in a technology firm in midtown, Manhattan. “And hackathon is a great chance to meet more entrepreneurs and opportunities.”

Regarding to several specific subjects in blending fashion with technology, fashion lovers and application programmers brainstormed creative ideas, such as customizing shopping interface for customers or mobile users by providing certain functions to help shoppers measure their clothes size without going to stores.

Inspired by entrepreneurial experience, General Assembly has been acting as an innovative supporter to assist entrepreneurs and startup companies in New York City for nearly 3 years.

“Nothing is as chic as a clean line of code. We wanna help.”

During the judging process of the competition, teams were asked to showcase their prototypes and application demos. Finally, judges made the decisions on winners by analyzing whether the demo reflected customer’s need, the product is profitable for commercial use or not, and if it provided a friendly use experience.

The first prize was gained by Thrifter, who designed an application that allows shoppers to bid clothes. Apart from cash prize, Thrifter team will also have the opportunity to pitch Andrew Siegel, head of strategy for Advanced Publications, parent company of Glamour magazine.

[Photos by Amy Xie]