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Is the coronavirus economic crisis similar to those triggered by the terrorist attack of 9/11 and the financial collapse 2008? If true, it should inspire us a pinch of optimism: from those crises new ideas emerged, startups that became a great success, because they responded to real needs and had to focus their resources well in a difficult climate, with little money available.
An example? Meetup,born from the rubble of the Twin Towers to help people organize themselves in communities based on shared interests: today it has 44 million members in 2,000 cities in 190 countries in the world, and is part of the AlleyCorp group led by one of the veterans of the New York startups , Kevin Ryan.
Another example is Kickstarter, the platform where creatives from all sectors seek lenders for their projects: it was born on April 28, 2009, in the midst of the Great Recession. In recent years, 18 million people have used it to make their “dreams” come true, raising $5 billion for nearly 200,000 projects.
Here is the story of Meetup as Scott Heiferman told us in “Tech and the City”.
But a far more devastating tragedy still was to befall New York and Silicon Alley: the terrorist attack of September 11, 2001. An absolute evil that, however unintentionally, generated a good seed. Scott Heiferman: “I was on a bus, going from the East Village to my house in NoHo that morning. I heard the news on the radio of the first aircraft hitting the Twin Towers and I decided to go on the roof of my apartment building. I arrived a few seconds after the second plane had hit. And then I lived through this experience I often talk about, of having more conversations and talking to more people in the hours and days after 9/11 than I had in all my previous years in New York. And that was intriguing because until then I had no particular interest in my local community. After 9/11, I became interested in the simple pleasure of talking to neighbors, to get to know them. And I understood how powerful people can be when they get organized. In those days we saw lots of vigils and support groups and I became interested in how people can get to know more neighbors, how in the future they could organize local communities about anything, and that led to Meetup: use the Internet to organize individuals in a community. A concept that then, well ahead of Facebook and the emergence of the term ‘social media’, seemed ridiculous.”
La crisi economica da coronavirus e’ simile a quelle scatenate dall’attacco terroristico dell’11 settembre 2001 e dal crollo finanziario 2008? Fosse vero, dovrebbe ispirarci un pizzico di ottimismo: da quelle crisi sono emerse idee nuove, startup diventate poi un grande successo, perché hanno risposto a bisogni veri e hanno dovuto focalizzando bene le loro risorse in un clima difficile, con pochi soldi a disposizione.
Un esempio? Meetup, nata dalle macerie delle Torri Gemelle per aiutare la gente a organizzarsi in comunità basate su interessi condivisi: oggi ha 44 milioni di membri in 2.000 città di 190 Paesi nel mondo, e fa parte del gruppo AlleyCorp guidato da uno dei veterani delle startup newyorkesi, Kevin Ryan.
Un altro esempio e’ Kickstarter, la piattaforma dove creativi di tutti i settori cercano finanziatori ai loro progetti: e’ nata il 28 aprile 2009, nel mezzo della Grande Recessione. In questi anni l’hanno usata 18 milioni di persone per realizzare i loro “sogni” raccogliendo 5 miliardi di dollari per quasi 200 mila progetti.
Ecco la storia di Meetup come ce l’ha raccontata Scott Heiferman in “Tech and the City”.
Su Silicon Alley, e su tutta New York, doveva ancora abbattersi una tragedia ben più devastante, l’attacco terroristico dell’11 settembre 2001 (9/11). Un male assoluto che, però, gettò anche un seme buono. La testimonianza è di Scott Heiferman: “Ero sull’autobus, andando dall’East Village a casa mia a NoHo, quella mattina – racconta -. Ho sentito la notizia del primo aereo nelle Torri Gemelle e ho deciso di salire sul tetto del palazzo del mio appartamento. Ci sono arrivato pochi secondi dopo l’impatto del secondo aereo. E poi, ho vissuto quest’esperienza di cui parlo sempre: nelle ore e nei giorni dopo 9/11 ho avuto più conversazioni con un numero maggiore di vicini di casa che in tutti gli anni precedenti a New York. Prima, non avevo un interesse particolare nella comunità locale. Dopo 9/11, mi ha colpito il semplice piacere di parlare con gli altri, di conoscerli. E ho capito quanto la gente sa essere potente quando si organizza. In quei giorni si vedevano innumerevoli veglie e gruppi di aiuto reciproco. Da lì mi è venuta l’idea di Meetup: usare Internet per organizzare i singoli in comunità. Un concetto che allora – ben prima di Facebook e dell’emergere del termine social media – sembrava ridicolo”.
Data are so important to understand and fight coronavirus. The NYC based startup Cuebiq is helping thanks to its “COVID-19 Mobility Insights“: “We understand this is a tough time for businesses as well as consumers. As part of our commitment to sharing data for the greater good, Cuebiq is providing free access to mobility and store visitation patterns during the COVID-19 crisis to help businesses as they look to adjust their strategies to meet this new and uncertain market.”
The NYTimes used Cuebiq data to analyze how the stay-at-home orders have or have not halted travel for Americans. “The divide in travel patterns, based on anonymous cellphone data from 15 million people, suggests that Americans in wide swaths of the West, Northeast and Midwest have complied with orders from state and local officials to stay home. Disease experts who reviewed the results say those reductions in travel — to less than a mile a day, on average, from about five miles — may be enough to sharply curb the spread of the coronavirus in those regions, at least for now.”
Cuebiq’s data were used also in Italy by the University of Turin to study Italians’ movements during the coronavirus emergency.
Cuebiq is an offline intelligence and measurement company helping marketers understand the true impact of their cross-channel advertising in the offline world. Four young Italians – CEO Antonio Tomarchio and EVP of Product Ecosystem William Nespoli, both alumni of Politecnico di Milano, with Chief Information Security Officer Walter Ferrara and Chief Innovation Officer Filippo Privitera – founded the company in Milan in 2015. They decided to have their headquarters in New York to develop the business on a global scale, while maintaining R&D in Milan. Right now they are hiring both in the US and in Italy.
Another exit for a NYC startup: Authorea, co-founded by the Italian astrophysics Alberto Pepe, has been acquired by Atypon, the leading online scholarly publishing technology company. “I want to bring sexy back to science”, Pepe said when he launch his startup in 2012 with Nathan Jenkins. “Our mission – Pepe now explains – has been the same from day one: to improve the ways in which researchers write and publish their work. We’ve felt that science writing and publishing are not as modern as they could be, which is why we built Authorea, so that research documents can exist on an open, online, data-driven, interactive platform.”
Atypon’s parent company is Wiley (listed at NYSE) that is pioneering Open Access, linked data, streamlined editorial processes, and HTML-first publishing among its authors. “Thanks to the acquisition – says Pepe – Authorea will receive a line of investment that will help us build stronger team and product. In short, Authorea is about to get a lot faster, more robust, and ultimately more valuable to all researchers.”
Authorea was the first startup created by an Italian that was able to raise money among NYC investors, thanks to the VentureOutNY program. “We raised a $600,000 seed round with a term sheet from New York Angels, with Brian Cohen and Alessandro Piol leading the pool of investors – remembers 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 https://www.cfa.harvard.edu/~agoodman/ : 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. Authorea is based in NYC because in 2013 Pepe came to New York as Visiting Researcher in Astrophysics and Cosmology at NYU (New York University), and he fell in love with the city”.