“Making it in NYC” is the title of the discussion organized by New York International, which will take place at Brooklyn Borough Hall on September 4, 6-9 pm (it’s free: register here).

I’m very excited to be one of the panelist together with Robert Petty, CEO Sports195, Australia and Borahm Cho, Co-founder Kitchensurfing, Germany. Moderator: Stefanie Lemcke, Founder New York International.

“The topic – according to the program – will focus on challenges and rewards of starting up in New York City from abroad as well as tips for international expansion and some resources that the city can provide international startups. The panel will include experts from three countries who have either started a business in NYC, or have insight into the startup / tech ecosystem in NYC. We aim to foster the exchange of experiences and expectations for 2015 both in New York City and international cities. In addition, how can cities better facilitate international startup expansion?”

A delegation of startups from Berlin and another one from Rome, organized by InnovActionLab, will attend the event.

Well, as they say, if you can make it in New York…

 

Tech is also fun and art in New York. If you don’t believe it, go and visit NYC Makers: The MAD Biennial, the exhibition that opened on July 1st at the Museum of Arts and Design (going on until October 12, 2 Columbus Circle, NYC). You can see the work of 100 makers, artisans, artists, and designers that are based in the City and were selected by a jury to represent the highest level of skill in their respective field. Some of them use technology to create their work in very interesting ways.

«Since its founding, the Museum of Arts and Design has championed the way that artists and designers transform the world around us, using both traditional and cutting-edge creative processes – explains MAD’s new director Glenn Adamson -. This exhibition reflects this core mission across the full range of crafted production, and establishes a new paradigm of 21st-century making as an engine for creative industry». Here you are some of the works that impressed me more.

On the 4th floor there is the wearable technology by Aisen Caro Chacin, who has been featured as an “Inventor in Future Tech” by Discovery Channel. «She is also a bucket of ideas open to merge and exchange with other buckets… to create cooperative work», says her website. Now she focuses on Human Computer Interaction HCI, designing new interfaces for information display. For example “Play-A-Grill” is a mouthpiece that allows the wearer experience sound through the jawbone and skull instead of the ears, and “Echolocation Headphones” allow the wearer to determine space through parametric sound, like a bat.

Aisen Caro Chacin with her wearable technology

Aisen Caro Chacin with her wearable technology

On the 5th floor you’ll admire “Echo Hat” by H E I D I L E E. “It’s made with 3D printing by Shapeways”, tells me the artist Heidi Lee, who is wearing a smaller red version of the hat. Shapeways has the largest 3D printing manufacturing facility in NYC, called the “Factory of the Future,” in Long Island City, Queens.

Heidi Lee or H E I D I L E E with one of her 3D printed hat

Heidi Lee or H E I D I L E E with one of her 3D printed hat

“Synth Spin Table” is a turntable-based synthesizer, one of the many possible applications of littleBits, which is “the most versatile way to learn and prototype with electronics”. In other words it’s a sort of Lego teaching about the basics of electronics. Each bit has a specific  function – light, sound, sensors, activators, motors, etc. – and modules snap together to make larger circuits.

“Synth Spin Table” by littleBits

“Synth Spin Table” by littleBits

The Italian Federico Zannier is one of the team of engineers and designers who created in New York “Power Clip prototype 2.0”. The others are Robin Reid, Phil Groman, and Surya Mattu. The PowerClip is a device that gives first responders immediate access to power in the wake of an emergency, such as Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. The compact unit provides an efficient and inexpensive power source to charge appliances through USB from a car battery. “It is included in the Biennial – reads the catalogue – not only to signal respect for the work of skilled prototypers, but also because it exemplifies the empowering dimension of new design”.

“Power Clip prototype 2.0”

“Power Clip prototype 2.0”

The Italian featured in the exhibition is much more famous: the architect and designer Gaetano Pesce, who since 1980 has been living and working in New York, in his Soho studio. He’s known for embracing new and unexpected materials in his designs: here you see a sort of “liquid” screen made of resin, “Ritratto di quello che non guarda (o almeno così sembra…)” or “Portrait of the one who doesn’t look (or at least it doesn’t seems so…)”.

Gaetano Pesce’s “Ritratto di quello che non guarda  (o almeno così sembra…)”

Gaetano Pesce’s “Ritratto di quello che non guarda (o almeno così sembra…)”

Finally, I got attracted by “The DeptKit”: an open-source software and hardware, which allows filmmakers to augment video with data 3D scanned from a depth-sensing camera. It’s and ongoing project by the developer James George, the experimental photographer Alexander Porter, and the documentarian Jonathan Minard. “The DepthKit invites you to imagine the future of filmmaking – reads its website -. Repurposing the depth sensing camera from the Microsoft Kinect or Asus Xtion Pro as an accessory to your HD DSLR camera, the open source hardware and software captures and visualizes the world as mesmerizing wireframe forms. A CGI and video hybrid, the data can be rephotographed from any angle in post.” I played with it for a while, and here is the result:

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Tips: MAD has a museum store with made in NYC objects, including wonderful jewels (http://thestore.madmuseum.org/ ); and of the top floor there is Robert restaurant with stunning views and live jazz on Tuesdays, Wednesdays & Fridays (http://robertnyc.com/ ).

NB: Originally published on StartupItalia!

“Smart and Sustainable Cities” is the industry topic of the second phase of the W2NYC – “World to New York City – Global Industry Challenge” program. Startups can apply here through August 22.

One Italian company was invited to the first edition of the program, which ran from May 12 to 14: OpenPicus.

OpenPicus was selected with other 14 startups from all over the world for a three day full immersion into NYC’s manufacturing-tech ecosystem, with a chance «to build partnerships with local and national firms».

«My experience was so awesome that I decided to stay one week longer, and in the end I’ve been able to find our first representative in New York, where we plan to open an office and start building our operations in the U.S. market» Claudio Carnevali, CEO and co-founder of openPicus, told me. IMG_0250

Claudio is 38 years old – «a startupper with some white hair», he jokes –, he’s originally from Fano, Marche and has a degree in Engineering and Management. «I am an electronic hardware passionate from my childhood, I was lucky enough to transform my hobby into my profession»,  he explains. It helped that his family owned an electronic manufacturing company.

Claudio started his company three years ago in Rome with Gabriele Allegria, who is now the Chief Technology Officer. «We started with a blog because I thought that storytelling was important to create a community before launching a real product – says Claudio -. We design and manufacture open hardware programmable modules for Internet of Things. You could call it a sort of Arduino platform for professional applications. In other words, we are the missing link between cloud computing and hardware, we create hardware that talks to the cloud. So our clients are mostly software companies».

As an example, Claudio mentions a company that used OpenPicus to make a «smart umbrella stand»: if the weather forecast says it will rain, the stand lights up in order to remind you to get the umbrella before leaving home. A big project was Evian Smart Drop, designed for the famous French brand of mineral water: it’s an Internet connected fridge magnet that you can press when you’re running out of bottles, and it transmits a new home delivery order.

«We employ ten people, half in Rome and half in our factory in Marche – says Claudio -. We have around 3,000 clients and 95% of our sales are abroad. So far we’ve grown with our own money, and we are break even. We’ve been very successful in Europe, from Germany to Great Britain, including Spain and East Europe. Unfortunately the Italian market is quite slow to embrace our kind of innovation».

Actually OpenPicus didn’t apply for the Global Industry Challenge. «It was W2NYC that contacted us – recalls Claudio -. I was so surprised to see a public administration that really helps entrepreneurs. In Europe we don’t apply for grants or other public programs because they cost so much in terms of red tape and bureaucracy, more than the benefits they give you. With initiatives like W2NYC the City of New York shows it understands the power of knowledge sharing to foster the tech community and attract new talent» (see here W2NYC thanking the spring participants, and their photo).

«I couldn’t dream of being able to learn so much and make so many business contacts in only three days – goes on Claudio -. We visited a lot of exciting places: the incubator New Lab at the Brooklyn Navy Yard, the digital advertising agency R/GA, Quirky. We attended a Hardwired NYC event and met a few venture capitalists. I’ve understood that the NYC tech community is very diverse, it has so many different players, and they are all available: they will help you even if you don’t ask. That’s a big difference from Europe where they help you only in exchange of something. But you must be good at networking, which is a crucial skill in this environment. I think this is the right moment to be here, also for fund raising».

(previously published on StartupItalia!)

«I want to bring sexy back to science», says Alberto Pepe, the 34 year old co-founder of Authorea, a startup based in New York City. It’s «the collaborative platform for research», reads its website.

Alberto Pepe

It’s also the first startup created by an Italian that is able to raise money among NYC investors, thanks to the VentureOutNY program that every month brings non US startups to NYC to learn from the local technology community and meet investors. The first Italian program took place last December, and two weeks ago there was a second one, sponsored – among others – by the Italian Business & Investment Initiative (IB&II)with eight new startups showcasing their business to an investor panel that included Brian Cohen of NY Angels, Thatcher Bell of Gotham Ventures,  Nihal Mehta of ENIAC Ventures, and Kristin Calve of Topstone Angels. For the first time, the General Consul of Italy in NYC, Natalia Quintavalle was the keynote speaker, stressing how the Italian authorities are supporting young entrepreneurs.

«We are raising a $600,000 seed round with a term sheet from New York Angels, with Brian Cohen and Alessandro Piol leading the pool of investors – says Pepe. – I met them at the VentureOutNY event on December 3, 2013. Cohen has a Master of Science and Technology Journalism and was interested in my scientific background; together with Piol he helped me elaborate a business plan, which was a difficult task for me».

Born in Manduria, where everybody, including his family, makes wine (the Primitivo), Pepe has always been fascinated by math, astronomy, astrophysics. Here is his story, as he told me: «After high-school, in 1998 I decided to go and study in London. I knew nothing about the Internet, or about how to apply to a British college. So when I went to UCL (University College London) in September, thinking I could immediately enroll and start my classes, I looked very naïf, but they liked my spirit, and they accepted me, provided that I would spend one year studying English. At UCL, I got my Bachelor degree in Astrophysics (2002) and my Master  in Computer Science (2003)».

«Then I went back to Italy where I worked for six months at CINECA (InterUniversity Consortium, Bologna) with the Scientific Computing and Data Visualization Group. From 2004 to 2006 I worked in Geneva, Switzerland, in the Information Technology Department at CERN (European Organization for Nuclear Research). At CERN, I dealt a lot with archives and I started cultivating the idea of an open access to science».

«In 2006 I moved to California, where I got my Ph.D. in Information Studies at UCLA (University of California, Los Angeles). My Doctoral dissertation was about “Structure and Evolution of Scientific Collaboration Networks in a Modern Research Collaboratory”: it’s the scientific foundation for my startup»

«In June 2010, after finishing my PhD, I met professor Alyssa Goodman, professor at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics, in Cambridge, Massachusetts: after a ten minute conversation she hired me. So I did my Postdoctoral research at Harvard, where I stayed until four months ago, when I resigned in order to focus on my startup (Professor Goodman is on Authorea’s board as Senior Scientific Advisor). I founded Authorea in 2012 with Nathan Jenkins, whom I met in Geneva.”

Why did Pepe leave research at the university? «It was fun – he explains, – but sometimes the academic world changes very slowly. I’ve been doing research for the last 14 years, and I’ve published a couple dozen scientific papers, besides my Doctoral dissertation, which was awarded  the prize as the best one in the fields of Info science and technology. So I know very well how the scientific publication business works and what’s wrong: we do 21st century research, but we write and disseminate the results with 20th century tools, which were created before Internet was invented.  Even worse, we package the results in a 17th century format, the same that Galileo invented to communicate with his scientific community and with the church authorities. However, Galileo in his scientific articles included all data from his observations. That’s impossible today, with huge data, so we publish only a very superficial version of our data, giving a link to a server where the whole data are available. But that’s very static».

That’s why Pepe created Authorea, «a platform that let scientists create an article as a dynamic project, where all the results are transparent and include not only text but also images, data, and analysis», he stresses. Harvard is already a client of Authorea’s, as well as Darmouth, CERN and EPRFL (École polytechnique fédérale de Lausanne): their researchers are using its platform. «We are also looking for contracts with university libraries, which are the gatekeepers of scientific information – adds Pepe, -they are spending million dollars in subscriptions to scientific publications, where their own research is published».

Pepe’s dream? «To change the world of scientific publication». How? «Asking ourselves: if Galileo were alive today, how would he publish his articles? I’m sure he’d used new tools -says the young Italian scientist. – Publishers of scientific magazines are quite slow and the review system is quite antiquated. My idea is to publish immediately all scientific articles online, where everybody can review and discuss them».

At the moment Pepe and his colleagues at Authorea are focused onto making their platform easier to use and involving scientists from fields other than physics, such as biology. Next step is to build a sales and marketing team. The scientific publication business is huge – a $25 billion revenue for medicine, science and technology magazine – so the potential is very high.

Why is Authorea based in NYC and non in Boston close to Harvard? «In 2013 I came to New York as Visiting Researcher in Astrophysics and Cosmology at NYU (New York University), and I fell in love with the city – explains Pepe. – Here it’s also easier for me to stay in touch with my girlfriend who is an actress working between NYC and Los Angeles. For the time being Authorea is based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where I live, but we may try and find a new, larger space».

(Originally posted in StartupItalia! )

originally posted on StartupItalia!

The kick-off of 2014 Internet Week in NYC (May 19) had a special guest speaker, the Mayor Bill de Blasio. For the first time he addressed the City’s tech community. Mr. de Blasio acknowledged the importance of the tech industry in NYC, mentioning that it represents 291,000 high-quality jobs. And he opened the door to all foreigners willing to work here.

«We want to attract the best talent – the Mayor said. – So besides giving municipal I.D. to foreigners already working here, we’ll help foreign students get visas if they want to stay and work here and maybe build their own startups». This promise – together with what the Mayor said in a press conference last Friday (May 16) about his being proud to be Italian and his will to help Italians in NYC – is very good news for the growing number of young Italians looking at New York as an opportunity for business.

Members of the NYC tech community and media listening to the Mayor

Members of the NYC tech community and media listening to the Mayor

Mr. de Blasio mentioned the previous Mayor, Michael Bloomberg: «He did a great job in setting the foundation for the technology boom in the City, but we want to go further and do more to foster economic growth in the City». How?

First, the Mayor promised the visas to foreigners, in order to help NYC startups get the talent they need. Second, there is the new “NYC Tech Talent Draft” that will connect around 4,500 computer science and engineering students to NYC startups: it’s a program that «introduces NYC’s tech scene to student audiences seeking entrepreneurial career opportunities, while providing NYC start-ups with a convenient, effective way to recruit top computer science and engineering students»,

Third, Mr. de Blasio announced the “Tech Talent Pipeline”, a $10 million initiative meant to train “thousands” of New Yorkers for high-tech jobs. The funding will come from the City, the NY State and privates, including JPMorgan Chase.

Forth, the de Blasio administration has created the “Jobs for New Yorkers” task force, made of 30 members, who represent a balance of “supply” and “demand”. Among them, there is Fred Wilson, managing partner at Union Square Ventures: one of the most active player in the NYC tech community, and that’s a very good sign. The task force «will develop real-time strategies to strengthen the city’s workforce and help workers develop the skills needed to secure good paying jobs in fast-growing careers», reads the press release.

Fifth, the Mayor stressed the importance of transforming public education from pre K (“scuola materna”) to college, with STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) programs at each level.

Finally, Mr. de Blasio promised to launch a «bold and decisive plan to give universal affordable access to broadband everywhere in the city»: reexamining its franchise agreements with Verizon’s fiber Internet service and Time Warner Cable; turning Manhattan’s payphones into a free, widespread Wi-Fi network; and creating a Wi-Fi network that will serve more than 80,000 Harlem citizens.

I gave NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio a copy of our book “Tech and the City”, hoping it will help him elaborate a strategy to support NYC tech community and make it event greater. It was on Friday, May 16, during a roundtable discussion with Italian journalists and the Italian Foreign Minister Federica Mogherini (on the left in the photo).

Cometto regala Tech and the City a de Blasio 16-5-14

Originally posted on StartupItalia!

Why did Massimo Banzi, founder of Arduino, decide to celebrate Arduino’s birthday in New York? Because there isn’t just technology, like in San Francisco. Next phase of FabLabs? Genetic hacking

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Guess where Massimo Banzi, the Italian co-founder and ceo of Arduino (and also co-founder and chairman of Make in Italy) decided to celebrate Arduino Day (March 29)? In New York City, the emerging hub for experimenting new cool stuff in tech & manufacturing. I met him at the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP) at the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University, a breeding ground of ideas for the New York high-tech community since the 1990s. We talked in the room of professor Tom Igoe, who is another of Arduino’s founders.

Massimo has just arrived to NYC to explore the options to grow Arduino here, where this made in Italy “computer” is already a cult and it’s used by tons of “makers” (you can read the story of Arduino and Massimo on Riccardo Luna’s book “Cambiamo tutto” or here).

Why New York? «This city has been always very good at inspiring and letting thrive a lot of subcultures, with young people experimenting in many different fields, from arts to music, and now in tech – says Massimo. -The diversity of these subcultures and their interaction with technology makes the city so interesting today. More than San Francisco, where all the focus is only on technology and where there are too many questionable startups, which invent too many products in search of a problem to solve. I’m afraid that in San Francisco and in Silicon Valley today a lot of startuppers look for a quick exit that is selling their web company as soon as possible to get rich and move on with the next idea. In NYC startuppers want to make money too, but there is also a genuine drive to build something that lasts».

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Arduino has already an office in the U.S., close to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), besides offices in Italy (Officine Arduino in Turin), Sweden, India and Switzerland, where Massimo lived and taught for the past four years. In the world there are around 20 people regularly working with Arduino plus other 20 people contributing. Most of the Arduino boards are made in Italy, with some also made in USA and others made in Taiwan. Because of the open source model, Arduino is not a traditional company. «We are more like a fashion brand – explains Massimo. -We authorize factories to manufacture and sell devices with our brand, and get paid for that. Then anybody can use the boards and create anything». Which is great, but nine years after its foundation, without big investments Arduino is still at a quasi artisanal level.

Now Massimo is thinking big. «New York has more that 8 million inhabitants, more than the whole Switzerland – he points out. -There are so many makers here that Adafruit, the company that in Manhattan manufactures electronics and kits based on Arduino, is about to offer same day delivery of its products to its clients».

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So in New York Massimo can find both commercial partnerships and investors who fund the development of new products. «We have a lot of ideas for the Internet of Things, for example, but we need investments to works on it – says Massimo. -We have been already contacted by many venture capitalists and angel investors. Next step is to see who understand open source, our value and can help us grow».

In the meantime, Arduino is collaborating with a few startups based in NYC, such as littleBits, a sort of Lego for electronics, and Temboo, a software used by developers to interact with all kind of systems, including Arduino. Both startups had demos on Arduino Day at ITP, together with many other exciting organizations. Just to mention one: Brooklyn based Genspace, a sort of genetics FabLab. «Genetic hacking will be the next interesting phase of FabLabs», assures Massimo.

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New Jersey rocks! And startups are not just for techies. Don’t you believe it? Listen to “The Blues of Humanities” by “The Bruce Springsteen of Startups”.

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That was the gran finale of a terrific panel discussion at Montclair University, NJ, on April 16: the author of the song and performer (in the photo above) is the scientist & artist Guy Story, CTO and Chief scientist at Audible.com.

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The event was organized by Teresa Fiore, associate professor and Inserra chair in Italian and Italian American Studies, and by Dennis Bone, the director of the Feliciano Center for Entrepreneurship. Alessandro and I were among the panel discussants together with Guy and Claudio Vaccarella, CEO of HyperTV. The Italian General Consul in New York, Natalia Quintavalle, opened the evening stressing the importance of Italian-Americans’ and Italians’ contribution to the economy of New Jersey. More than 100 students, teachers, pros were in the audience.

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The theme of the discussion: “Humanities and language studies can also be the spark for a startup, especially in New Jersey and New York City”. So we explored the intersection of languages, technology and entrepreneurship.

Professors Fiore and Bone (in the photo below) are experimenting multidisciplinary initiatives, building relationships and collaboration among different department within the campus and with other organizations out of the university (which is the second largest university in NJ, with almost 20,000 students). “We are interested in dynamic ways of looking at the humanities and foreign languages particularly in relation to technological innovation”, Teresa Fiore observed, “the Italian Program at Montclair State – thanks to the support of the Inserra Endowment – is embarking on a curriculum redesign that aims at embracing technology, including social media, in order to fulfill interdisciplinary goals and to better prepare students for the professional world.” Professor Bone added: “We are trying to create an ecosystem for young entrepreneurs in New Jersey”. In fact last fall he launched new experiential courses at the Feliciano Center: teams of students with different backgrounds are challenged to solve thorny problems, assisted by mentors from the industry. The first teams will pitch their business ideas on May 13th.

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A big player on the NJ tech scene is Audible.com, which is based in Newark, NJ. Guy pointed out how Audible.com is a good example of the intersection of languages, technology and entrepreneurship: its business are words and to delivery them in the audio format it invented a new device, the first portable player to play sounds downloaded from the Internet (the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, DC, still displays it as an important piece of new media history). Audible.com show also that you can succeed even if you are not based in a “cool” city like NYC. Actually, to its founder and CEO, Don Katz, NYC is not so cool, as he told us in the interview for “Tech and the City”:

   I chose New Jersey also because a lot of tech talent was out in this Jersey corridor, arguably more than there was at that point (1995, ndr) in New York City. Our CTO Guy Story, for instance, comes from Bell Labs and many other engineers also came from Bell Labs. To me New York is not hipster heaven. All the dinosaurs that we are changing are in New York. It is a bunch of old Lunchtime O’Booze publishing executives who arrogate to be the industry when they have never invented or done anything. All innovations in the book business—the paperback book, the book club, the superstore, the discounters, Amazon, Audible— were all created outside the industry: it was never organic. A process similar to that which occurred in music and cinema. In short, content guys are not very progressive.”  

   Staying a few miles away from Silicon Alley, Katz grew Audible until in 2008 Amazon.com acquired it for $300 million, leaving it independent under his leadership.

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Guy said that Audible.com is trying to build a tech community in Newark too, but it’s not that easy and it takes time: “You need a critical mass of creative people with ideas and tech skills getting together”.  Events like the one at Montclair are certainly the right way to get people together and spark a conversation that may lead to a new startups’ hub.

(article first published on StartupItalia!) If you are an innovative new manufacturing company, hurry up: you have time until March 31 to enter the Global Industry Challenge. It’s a program organized by the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) “geared towards companies with a customer-ready product/service, an established market in their home country/region, the financial capability to seriously enter the US market, and is already generating revenue”.

The “challenge” is open to startups from around the world: only the best 15 will win a three day full immersion into NYC’s manufacturing-tech ecosystem; they’ll “connect with large and small stakeholders in the new manufacturing area”, with a chance “to build partnerships with local and national firms”. Be aware that “preference will be given to applicants that clearly display an interest in and a readiness to expand their operation into NYC”.

The Big Apple is indeed emerging as leader in new manufacturing thanks to 3D printing. Many successful NYC startups are kind of a “cult” for the maker movement, such as the creator of low-cost 3D printer Makerbot, which was bought last year by Stratasys for $604 million; Quirky, the platform for inventors of consumer electronics; Adafruit Industries, the maker of DIY electronics kits founded by founded by Limor “Ladyada” Fried; and Shapeways, which in October 2012 opened the “Factory of the Future,” a new 3D Printing manufacturing facility in Long Island City, Queens.

The latter is a great example of a startup that was born in Europe and then moved its headquarters to NYC in order to expand, getting funds and developing new markets. Peter Weijmarshausen, co-founder and CEO, is a Dutch entrepreneur who in 2007 got the chance to work in the Philips Lifestyle Incubator (PLI) in Eindhoven on a 3D printer project. A year later, Shapeways was created and in 2010 it left the incubator and moved to NYC. Shapeways “helps make and sell things,” from really small items as a ring, to much larger ones as a chair with more than 30 material options, from plastic to ceramics, from steel to silver, from nylon to glass. The company offers 3D software to design them, the hardware needed to make them, and a virtual store to sell them from. It currently employs 80 people, it has printed more than 1,000,000 products to date, it serves 10,000 independently run shops and these shop owners earned $500,000 income in 2013. Last year Shapeways got a $30 million Series C round of financing, led by Andreessen Horowitz, which brought total funding to $47.3; other investors are Union Square Ventures, Index Ventures, and Lux Capital. Two facts made Weijmarshausen decide to move to NYC: realizing that many of his customers and designers were in the U.S., and finding very difficult to get new funds in Europe after the economic crisis of 2008. Moreover, in NYC Weijmarshausen found the right “mindset” for a startup to thrive: “It’s easy to meet interesting people who understand the business, design and high-tech. And everyone works together with an open spirit” (from Tech and the City, pag. 125).

Besides the Global Industry Challenge, NYCEDC offers other programs to international entrepreneurs. One is the annual competition NYC Next Idea: applicants have to develop business plans that can be launched in NYC. Finalist teams win an all-expense paid trip to New York City to present their idea to a prestigious panel of judges who will decide the prize winners. Prizes include a cash pool of $35,000, free workspace in NYC, pro bono legal advice, and mentorship from the New York City venture capital and startup community. The 2014 edition got over 240 ideas submitted from 51 countries. Out of the six finalist teams, two were from Germany, one from UK-USA, and three were American.

The most prestigious and selective program is NYC Venture Fellows, a year-long fellowship program that “provides successful entrepreneurs with opportunities to grow their ventures by connecting them with mentors from leading companies and providing exclusive CEO-level networking and educational opportunities”. The 2014 Class of NYC Venture Fellows includes 28 entrepreneurs from five different countries, and from a diverse cross-section of industries such as media, enterprise software, biotech, education, financial services, and real estate.

None is from Italy. Why can’t you try and get into the next edition?

 

I read three interesting articles this weekend around new tech communities.

The first one was a very well written article in The New York Times Magazine by Yiren Lu, a Silicon Valley-raised, East Coast (Harvard and Columbia) educated Computer Scientist, titled “Silicon Valley’s Youth Problem,” in which she tackles the differences between “older” generation engineers and the current crop of “restless” engineers and computer scientists who want to change the world and build the next great technology company. The two don’t seem to mix.

She attributes this fact to cultural aspects of older generation companies (Cisco, HP) vs. newer ones (Dropbox, AirBnB): an older engineer would probably not fit well in a Gen-Y-founded company mostly because of lifestyle reasons and partially because some have failed to keep their programming skills up to date (her arguments are more refined than my exposition and I recommend you read the article). I partially agree with her logic, but I think it boils down to the “cool” factor (which she also mentions): some companies have been able to stay cool and are attractive for both generations of engineers (i.e. Apple, Google) and some have lost it and are trying to regain the cool factor (Cisco, Microsoft), and are not very attractive to the younger generation, at least right now.

But she also talks about another point, which I fully agree with: starting new companies today is dramatically different from 15-20 years ago, and skills that were needed then are not needed now. When I used to invest in Silicon Valley companies in the 1990s (typically early growth companies, “Series B” rounds and beyond) I would visit an outfit in the midst of Silicon Valley, with 30+ employees in a relatively large office space that could host a computer/data room with the technicians and admins to maintain that and other facilities like the internal data network and infrastructure; a hardware prototyping lab (if the company was involved in hardware); a large programming team with experts in many aspects of system software development, because you had to build everything from scratch; a storage and “manufacturing” room (for software companies as well) where you would package your CD-ROMs, insert your manuals, shrink-wrap the box, ship (many of these companies required a loading dock). In addition, if the company was involved in developing sophisticated hardware products you had to pick your locations well. Did you have to be close to a prototyping lab or a fab? Did you have your own factory?

Today, this way of doing business has largely disappeared. It has been a while, of course, that we have moved away from the need to write software onto CD-ROM, package it and ship it: the Internet has optimized that process and now we download software every time there is an update, which is incredibly more efficient compared to the past. We don’t need the large computer rooms, the internal network infrastructure and personnel to go with it, because you are likely to use outsourced services like Amazon Web Services (AWS) as your server cluster, and all you need to think about is making sure that your office is well served by broadband service providers and wifi. By the same token, you don’t need large development teams anymore: you just need the domain experts that are important to what you are building. The rest (the database administrators, the developers of all the standard functionality in your system) are gone: AWS gives you a set of services for your use, open-source software is available for free, and there are enough APIs (Application Programming Interfaces) out there that you can connect to, in order to “mash in” the functionality required, from login scripts to credit card protocols, to integration of “nice to have” functionality like search, maps, weather etc.

Even if you are in the hardware business you can get so much more done and get to the prototype level much faster than in the past: off the shelf motherboards (Arduino, Rasperry Pi), a variety of inexpensive sensors, 3D printing, prototyping labs that you can access inexpensively (TechShop). You can do all of this inexpensively while creating final designs that conform easily to volume manufacturing facilities elsewhere in the world. Standardization creates important economies in hardware and software.

The bottom line is that in order to start a company today you don’t need the large office space and large development teams anymore: a small team with laptops in a shared space can accomplish all of this. You have to develop your core technology and mash in, plug in, borrow and rent the rest. It takes less than 5% of the investment that was required in the 1990s to develop a comparable software product. And to loop back to Lu’s article, if you are starting a company with a bunch of Gen-Ys and no one else, it is likely that the culture of the company will be very much modeled around that generation. Hence the difficulty to insert older generation engineers until the company is more mature.

All of this brings me, in somewhat lengthy fashion, to the other subject of this post: the new urbanization. In fact, the technology shift is also having an effect on where people are starting companies. If I don’t need to look for large office space and resources, which would typically be in large suburban office parks, I might as well focus on working in a location that I enjoy. Young people like to live in cities, where they can find social life and culture, as we discussed in our book, Tech and the City. Hence there is no reason not to live in cities: all I need is a desk, laptops and my team.

Fred Wilson touches on that in his blog post of today: Revitalizing Urban Cores, a must read like most of Fred’s posts. In it he makes the point, which I fully agree with, that to build new ecosystems you need to start with “lifestyle,” not tax incentives or government driven programs. Ecosystems start with entrepreneurs, as Brad Feld often states, and then the rest follows. You can accelerate the development of an ecosystem by offering incentives, but you still have to build a place young entrepreneurs are willing to move to and settle. Fred also discusses the development of the Downtown Project in Las Vegas by Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappo.

The third article I recommend is about Silicon Beach, the area around Santa Monica and Venice Beach where most of the LA tech community seems to have moved to. Titled “Network? Let’s party! Santa Monica as the new Silicon Valley,” it appears, perhaps aptly, in the Fashion and Style insert of today’s New York Times. And it is indeed a stylish article that mostly discusses the social life of LA’s entrepreneurs, not giving enough credit, in my opinion, to the technical chops of the community. LA too is growing as a tech hub and they deserve to be recognized. The article is nevertheless a good read about the culture of this community as compared to Silicon Valley or Silicon Alley.

The decrease in the cost of starting a company has another important effect: how companies are being funded. Seed/angel investments (and eventually crowd-funding) are replacing the early stage VCs: not much capital is needed to get to major milestones, and you can get there with seed funding. There is still a difference between building a product and building a company, and in today’s competitive environment you still need to spend a lot of money on marketing and sales, so large capital is still needed. It’s just that it is needed a little later and it is spent differently than in the past.

The entrepreneurial and VC landscape is changing and I think we can expect change to continue for the next few years. Which will give us a lot more to discuss.