Leveraging the Community
Abstract and Keywords
New York Tech Meetup emerged in the early 2000s as a formative organization in the city’s innovation ecosystem. Every month, hundreds of mostly young people and a few potential investors come to see computer coders and startup founders “demo” new apps and platforms they have created. In the 2010s, the tech meetup was joined by other organizations that also claimed to mobilize and speak for New York’s tech “community,” notably, the nonprofit organization Civic Hall, specializing in “civic tech,” and Tech:NYC, a nonprofit industry association. The chapter uses ethnographic observations and interviews with leaders of these organizations to document their efforts to “leverage” the membership for a role in tech policymaking in the city.
To Dawn Barber, a short, energetic woman with long auburn hair, everyone is either a “friend,” an “old friend,” a “very old friend,” or a “new friend,” the category in which she places me. Tonight, she’s wearing black jeans and scanning the auditorium in Skirball Center, on NYU’s campus in Greenwich Village. In half an hour, at 7 p.m.the monthly NY Tech Meetup will begin, and five hundred men and women, mostly in their twenties and also wearing jeans, are already filing in and sitting down, chatting and laughing. Barber has taken command of three rows of seats, left of center, at the front of the auditorium.1
Toward those seats she steers the VIPs she has invited to attend: two men and three women who have been active “for years,” she says, in the New York tech world, five middle-aged men wearing suits—the only “suits” in the room—whom she introduces as venture capitalists (VCs), and me. With each introduction, Dawn’s “friends” exchange business cards and chat for a few minutes until the next friend arrives and a new round of introductions begins.
Barber is showing me how a meetup works. Although the event’s stated purpose is for innovators to “demo” (demonstrate) some cool new technology that they have either invented or put together in an innovative way, the real goal is to network broadly, (p.54) zeroing in on other attendees who could be useful to your work. If they are VCs or angel investors, they may fund your startup. If they are software engineers or designers, they may add their technical skills to your brilliant idea and become your business partner. Or if they don’t hire you, you may hire them. The event is engineered to build New York’s tech community—and promote the city’s startup ecosystem as well.
For more than twenty years, Barber has helped to shape the intricate relation between the people in New York City who are committed to working with digital technology—the “community” as they like to call themselves—and the organizations that support them: companies, nonprofit associations, and government agencies. Together, the community and organizations form the city’s startup ecosystem, if you use “startup” as a stand-in for “tech,” as many people do.2
NY Tech Meetup (NYTM) has an unusual position on both sides of the ecosystem. It’s both a community of people who bond over their shared commitment to tech and a nonprofit organization that periodically gathers these people together. This organization also represents their interests and often mobilizes them to defend those interests by speaking with, or protesting to, elected officials. To make things more complicated, NYTM is part of the Meetup system, a network of groups that operate in different localities around the world but use the same digital platform. The company that owns the platform’s proprietary software, which is also called Meetup, was founded in 2002 and acquired by WeWork in 2017 for a reported $200 million. NYTM, with nearly sixty thousand registered members, is the largest of the quarter-million groups in the worldwide Meetup system.3
In 2004, Dawn Barber joined Scott Heiferman, the originator of the Meetup platform and CEO of the Meetup company, as NYTM’s cofounder.4 In the 1990s, she told me when I met with her at the nonprofit Civic Hall in the Flatiron District, she had shifted careers from running a small antiques store on the Upper West Side to being one of the directors of the New York New Media Association, a trade association of dot-com founders, venture capitalists, and other professionals who formed the first concentration of tech firms in Silicon Alley. Listening to her speak, you can see that she was born to be an evangelist. She is also a native New Yorker and not shy about speaking up for the city. “Why do people want to move here?” she asks. “Because we’re fucking awesome! We’re in the best place, we have a creative tech community, a diverse population—this makes New York a great place to build more inclusive teams [and relate to all kinds of customers].”
(p.55) Unlike most people she works with, Barber is neither a tech expert nor an investor. But she occupies an even more important niche in the ecosystem: she is a convener and a connector, a significant node between people in the tech community and organizations that want to work with them.
Tonight’s meetup is billed as an “art-tech” night. Each presenter will get ten minutes to show their creation—which is made up of digitally generated images or wearable technology that in some way is “artistic”—and then answer five minutes of questions from the audience. Dawn said the reason for the strict time limit is the venture capitalists. “They all have ADD [Attention Deficit Disorder],” she laughed, “and want you to get to the point. Pitches should be short and sweet!”
Like hackathons, tech meetups are tightly timed and thoroughly scripted events. But they’re not a competition. They’re like a science fair for adults but there are no judges or prizes, and you drink beer at the afterparty. What’s important is that everyone can see one another’s work and talk about it. Maybe some presenters will attract a VC’s interest, and they’ll exchange cards.
During the two hours it takes for the demos to be presented, the air inside the auditorium crackles with energy. If at a hackathon the collective effervescence of the whole gathering motivates each team, the effervescence of each successive meetup presentation builds momentum. The audience’s enthusiasm is stoked by the MC, a role played in turn by each of NYTM’s three employees.
Tonight’s first MC is Jessica Lawrence Quinn, NY Tech Meetup’s executive director from 2011 to 2017. Quinn immediately announces in a firm but friendly way that the meetup’s number-one ground rule is to focus on the tech. “One question is off limits,” she says. “ ‘What’s your business model?’ ” But as everywhere else in the tech community, business is never far away, for Jessica then lists all the companies and city government programs that are sponsoring tonight’s event. She also announces an upcoming “women’s demo night” that will be sponsored by Bloomberg—the media corporation, not the former mayor—a targeted opportunity for NYTM to encourage women technology developers and entrepreneurs.5
The first two presentations will be made by resident artists at Eyebeam, “a non-profit studio for research, production, education, and inspiration” in Industry City, a mammoth complex of old industrial buildings on the Brooklyn waterfront in Sunset Park. Eyebeam offers (p.56) residencies of up to two years to cultural producers “who spearhead new research and develop innovative new work at the point where art and technology meet.”6
A software designer and a composer of experimental music step onto the stage. For their demo, they present a stream of constantly changing, colored visualizations tied to digitally recorded sound that can be created and controlled by the user. They are followed by a woman who formerly worked as a production engineer at a 3D printing company; she shows a computer-powered loom that she controls with her iPhone. After a few false starts, she coaxes the loom into operation. Audience members ask three or four questions, and then the MC declares a brief break for networking, urging us to introduce ourselves to the other audience members seated to our left and right.
Up next is a demo by End Point, a startup that uses Liquid Galaxy, a Google Earth product, to create an immersive, panoramic experience of landscapes from images projected on wraparound screens. Without speaking directly about their business plan, the person who is presenting the demo says the company hopes to sell the product to museums, libraries, and real estate developers. When an audience member asks if you can use the technology to create a different kind of visual experience, he says, “We have the engineers, we just need the customers to pay for it.”
After this, another MC introduces the “hack of the month,” presented by two young women who work at a startup accelerator in the Bronx. They have developed a website that compiles and curates family histories “in any medium,” mainly photographs and videos. Genealogy is the second most popular search term on the Web, they say, indicating a huge potential market for their product. They are looking for historians to build content as well as investors to fund development, and they have already pitched the product to General Electric “to humanize the corporation.”
Then the third MC takes the mic. He introduces a group of young women from Jewelbots.com, “the world’s first programmable friendship bracelet.” All of them are wearing the bracelets, which flash lights that respond to other Jewelbots if they are nearby or can be controlled by code written by the user. This is “a passion project,” one of the presenters says. “I learned to code when I was twelve because I wanted to make friends”; the audience laughs politely. The next presenter, a design student, demos a fluffy white lamp that looks like a tiny cloud and is controlled, like the bracelets, by software and sensors. The audience chuckles.
(p.57) Yet it is the last demo of the night that most engages the audience. A young man who could be an indie musician comes onstage holding a slender, white instrument—about eighteen inches long—that looks like an elongated, flat harmonica. But the Artiphon is played with the hands; it can be tapped like a keyboard, strummed like a guitar, or bowed like a violin. When it is connected to an iPhone, iPod, or iPad, it makes all the sounds associated with those more traditional musical instruments. “It’s scalable with you,” the presenter says, meaning that anyone on any level of musical ability can play it. The Artiphon has evolved after four years of R&D in Nashville followed by one year at New Inc., the art-tech incubator of the New Museum on the Lower East Side of Manhattan; the company’s cofounders have already raised $1.3 million in funding on Kickstarter. Time magazine has named it one of the best inventions of the year. Clearly excited, the audience asks more questions about the Artiphon than about any of the other demos.7
As the Q and A ends, the venture capitalists sitting behind me prepare to leave. The man on my right turns around to remind one of them that he will email him soon. For some people, the meetup has been a success.
Since its founding in 2004, NY Tech Meetup has been a crucial building block in the city’s new economy, an inspiration to tech communities in other cities, and a model of bottom-up innovation initiatives for the Obama White House. At the outset, though, Scott Heiferman, Dawn Barber, and a handful of others were the only members. It took ten years, but by the night of the art-tech demos, in December 2015, the group’s membership count reached forty-seven thousand, with seven or eight hundred people attending each monthly event.
It was easy to join—you just signed up online. You paid $10 to register for the event. If you wanted to present a demo, you also applied online, and your creation would be vetted by Jessica Lawrence Quinn, the director, and her second-in-command, Andy Saldaña, who made sure your tech worked and you could explain it. Like the tech industry, NYTM’s membership expanded enormously after the financial crisis of 2008, quadrupling between 2010 and 2015. But all this growth could not have been predicted at the beginning.8
Meetup’s origin story credits Scott Heiferman, who had moved to New York during the dot-com years, for observing how his fellow (p.58) New Yorkers wanted to be together during the anxious days and weeks following the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center of September 11, 2001. He had already founded and sold an early online advertising agency, so he had a base in the dot-com community. After 9/11, Dawn Barber said, “He wanted to harness that community spirit.” Whether he was also influenced, as he has said, by Robert Putnam’s depiction of the decline of civic participation in his book Bowling Alone, a bestseller when it was published a year or two earlier, or he just sensed a business opportunity in using the Internet to bring together small groups of strangers who shared common interests, Heiferman and three cofounders set up the digital Meetup platform in 2002 with $1 million in Series A (early-stage) funding from two venture capital firms, one in Silicon Valley and the other in Hong Kong. Individuals who used the digital platform to connect with each other and establish meetup events in their city formed a new kind of hybrid: both an online and offline community.9
Yet this historical moment—after 9/11 and the dot-com bust—would not seem to be the best time in New York City to call out a tech community. When Heiferman announced the first tech meetup in 2004, Dawn was the only person who came.10 But people liked Heiferman, Barber said. “In the early days, Scott was an Oprah-style MC. He showed people, ‘I’m thinking from your perspective.’ ” Responding to his request to help organize the meetup, Dawn relied on the experience and contacts she had gained at the New York New Media Association (NYNMA) in the 1990s. “I told all my friends [about the new tech meetup], and we did concentrated outreach,” she said. In time “[we became known for] community building and having a platform to allow for that.”
Barber emphasized that the meetups have always been low-key and informal. “We never strived for a more formal networking [event],” she said. “We only had beer and chips.” Informality underlined the group’s inclusiveness, as did the welcoming mantra that Barber learned should be a priority from the opposite experience at NYNMA: “Everyone is equal under our roof, whether you’re a web developer from Brooklyn, a manager at Microsoft, or a VC.” Openness to everyone, she said, was one of the keys to NY Tech Meetup’s popularity.
The demo format was just as important. “Come and share the cool thing that you’re working on,” Barber said. “It can be anything, but it should be cool tech and worth sharing.” She named some local founders who had demoed their “cool thing” at the meetup and gone on to financial success: Josh (p.59) Schachter, who presented Delicious, eventually sold to Yahoo! for as much as $30 million; Zach Klein and Jake Lodwick, who created Vimeo, later sold to IAC/Interactive Corp.; and Foursquare, a mobile location app that was founded in New York in 2009, raised more than $200 million in funding and is still privately owned by Dennis Crowley and Naveen Salvadurai. When Barber received an award in 2012 for service to the city from the Association for a Better New York, it signaled recognition for NY Tech Meetup by the city’s most established businesses and nonprofit organizations.11
By then, NYTM was in full expansion. Experts who were promoting the development of startup ecosystems in cities around the world called meetups a key part of the process. According to Brad Feld, a well-known VC based in Boulder, Colorado, regular events like meetups and hackathons bring everyone in the local tech community together; they offer a way to “share information, adopt new trends, leverage innovation, and nimbly respond to new conditions.”12 Whether the goal is to enable a transfer of knowledge or facilitate collaboration, the monthly meetup aims to reproduce a space for innovation like those set up by the informal, inter-organizational networks of Silicon Valley.13
But tech meetups do more than that. Bringing different kinds of people face-to-face in a conversation about specific digital products and processes allows them not only to evaluate the demos but to evaluate each other. The information they collect builds trust in individuals and trust in the whole tech community. Establishing trust is important for students and founders who are just starting out on professional careers. It is also important for VCs and angel investors who, by their own account, prefer not to travel far from home to investigate likely projects. As Dawn explained NYTM’s success, “[The people who came] seemed to get value; they got to know the culture and the industry.”14
NY Tech Meetup also provided a direct means of communication between the inchoate tech community and the sprawling labyrinth of city government. Speaking for the community, NYTM lobbied elected officials on tech-related policies much as the New York New Media Association had done in the 1990s. In 2012, NYTM organized a demonstration in front of the New York City offices of both of New York State’s US senators to protest their support for proposed anti-piracy laws. When de Blasio ran for mayor in that year, Jessica Lawrence Quinn said, NYTM presented ten “policy points” to each candidate and “pushed hard” on them with de Blasio after he was elected. The leadership felt satisfied with their efforts when de Blasio (p.60) made expanding broadband access a priority of his new administration and named the city’s first chief technology officer (CTO) with her own team and budget. NYTM had urged the mayor to put someone in charge who would consider tech “holistically” rather than as a form of city marketing or economic development.15
Yet NY Tech Meetup also gave city officials a platform where they could explain policies and promote initiatives directly to the tech community. Mayor de Blasio came to the monthly meetup in September 2014 to introduce his administration’s new CTO, Minerva Tantoco. She came back to the meetup in April 2016 to pitch the city’s summer internship program for high school students. Like investors and founders, both NYTM and the city government “got value” from these low-key interactions—including when Tantoco, as graciously as any celebrity, took selfies with a young woman sitting next to her.16
Moreover, these public interactions laid a foundation for more detailed, follow-up discussions in smaller, more private gatherings. In 2015, after the de Blasio administration created a Tech Talent Pipeline to coordinate government-funded training and internship programs for tech jobs, NY Tech Meetup organized meetings between the Pipeline’s director and representatives of nonprofit workforce development organizations and for-profit coding schools so she could explain what her office intended to do and how these organizations could fit into the plans. NYTM also convened a small meeting for the New York State attorney general to explain his approach to innovation.17
Even Mayor Bloomberg found NY Tech Meetup helpful when he wanted to connect with the tech community. He visited the monthly meetup in October 2011 to announce the formation of a blue-ribbon Mayor’s Council on Technology and Innovation. After being introduced as “a former Wall Street dropout” to loud shouts and applause, Bloomberg used most of his twenty minutes on stage to pitch the audience on New York’s growing vitality as a “tech capital.” Listing the wide array of city government initiatives, from kitchen incubators to Cornell Tech, that his administration had under way, and offering a shout-out to Seth Pinsky, the president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation, who had accompanied him to the event, Bloomberg said the city government was committed “to do everything we can to keep building the technology business here.” “This is the area that is going to define this city in the twenty-first century and its economy,” he declared. “I want us to grow faster and bigger, so when (p.61) people talk about tech startups, they talk about Silicon Valley and New York City before anywhere else.”18
Coupling New York with Silicon Valley was daring in 2011. But Bloomberg saw the tech talent assembled at the meetup as a prime resource for the city’s economic growth. “New York City is the intellectual capital of the world,” the mayor told them. “This is where the best and the brightest are; this is the big pond.” Bloomberg pointed to Google’s New York office, “their biggest outside Mountain View,” which had opened in 2006, and his own company’s payroll of seven thousand employees, as well as Twitter’s newer, much smaller, local office. Clearly the mayor wanted to convince the young audience, whom he humorously addressed as “my peeps,” to commit to making their career in the city. “You have the power,” he said, “to make New York City the global capital of innovation and entrepreneurship.”
NY Tech Meetup was not the only organization to nurture a broadly defined tech community in the city in the early 2000s, but it gradually became the most visible and, in many ways, the most effective organization to speak for the community’s core interests. While demos kept the space “sacred” for tech, as Jessica Lawrence Quinn said, the face-to-face meetings, peer-to-peer networking, and buildup of trust shaped what tech evangelists and promoters call “the community.”
Social scientists have a more precise term for this kind of social formation. They call it an “epistemic community,” a social space where trained professionals with a common knowledge base develop a shared identity and worldview. According to the geographer Michael Storper, who has studied the economic development of research-based industrial regions like Silicon Valley, an epistemic community determines a region’s norms and zeitgeist; it creates both the intellectual capital and the social capital needed for economic development.19
But it’s not clear that everyone in the New York tech community shares the same worldview. After Mayor Bloomberg spoke to the tech meetup in 2011, an audience member told me, the cheers were just as loud for the next speaker, who represented the Occupy Wall Street protest movement. To a great extent, the tech community does have common needs—most notably, for good broadband access, the expansion of tech education in local schools, and open US borders for highly educated migrants. According to everyone I’ve interviewed, the New York tech community also shares a strong interest (p.62) in social, ethnic, and gender diversity. For these common goals, NY Tech Meetup created both a platform and a voice.
Yet differences within the tech community grew greater when the community expanded, became more organizationally diverse, and began to operate in an increasingly resource-rich environment. While jobs connected to digital technology multiplied in all kinds of organizations, members of the community became more differentiated by both their institutional affiliations and access to economic and political capital. At the same time, the expansion of resources that were being invested in technology by both VCs and city government had a paradoxical effect. The quick pace of innovation demanded cooperation, but the high stakes of controlling innovation spurred competition. Over time, NY Tech Meetup had to navigate a more complex ecosystem.
Jessica Lawrence Quinn saw a big change in the “community” between 2011, when she began working at NY Tech Meetup, and 2015. “It had been a small group of people,” she said. “Mostly startup founders or those at an early stage of thinking about starting up. There weren’t a lot of people working for large tech firms like IBM.” But when NYTM sponsored a comprehensive survey of the city’s tech ecosystem in 2014, they discovered the community had changed. “We had a big Aha! moment, when we looked at tech jobs in non-tech sectors,” Quinn said. “Over 50 percent of tech jobs were in the Goldman Sachs and New York Times of the world. They refer to themselves as tech companies now. . . . That’s how they became a ‘natural’ part of the community. It’s not as uniform as it was even ten years ago [in 2005].” Dawn Barber confirmed what Quinn said and spoke of a spillover from tech to every other part of the city’s economy. When I asked who is in the “tech community,” Barber replied, “In the early days, it was a specific kind of investor and entrepreneur community focused on technology. But that has grown. The [tech] sector has infiltrated finance, fashion, food, media, everything. I can’t think of one sector that tech doesn’t touch.”20
These changes were reflected in both NYTM’s membership and the audience at the monthly meetups. “My sense is the membership is a big mix,” Quinn said, “including investors and entrepreneurs. We’re attracting people working for larger companies who are thinking about founding startups. Often, they are also trying to figure out what to do internally to innovate. A lot of companies started up internal venture capital funds and are looking for investments. . . . Others in the audience are looking for sparks of inspiration.”
(p.63) As more people and organizations in New York developed an interest in innovation, they were connected by a proliferation of overlapping partnerships between the public sector of government, the private sector of for-profit businesses, and the nonprofit sector of educational, philanthropic, and civic institutions. To some degree, these partnerships adopted the “triple helix” model of multiple, formal and informal collaborations between local businesses, universities, and government agencies that is common in all tech research centers including Silicon Valley. But they also represented the governance mode that has been preferred by many city-based US companies since the 1970s and by high-level international organizations like the World Economic Forum. After 2008, public-private-nonprofit partnerships that had gradually emerged in New York City since the 1980s as a tool for the funding, management, and governance of public space became the default mode of funding, managing, and representing the tech community.21
Every initiative to build the tech ecosystem in New York since 2008 has been cosponsored by public, private, and nonprofit organizations. Many, though not all, of them have been coaxed into practice by the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The 2014 study that prompted an “Aha! moment” at NY Tech Meetup was cosponsored by NYTM itself and the Association for a Better New York, both nonprofits, joined by the financial corporation Citigroup and the tech company Google. Likewise, when it was rolled out in 2015, the website and curated newsletter digital.nyc, “the official online hub of the New York City startup and technology ecosystem,” relied on a platform provided by Gust, a for-profit business; co-sponsorship by the mayor, NYCEDC, and the city’s largest tech and media companies; and contributions, often in services, from smaller digital firms. “It’s the ideal of a public-private partnership,” Gust’s founder, the investor David S. Rose, told me. “It leverages the best of everybody.”22
“Leverage” is a word that comes up often in conversations with investors and economic development officials—and it’s an important concept for understanding the way New York’s tech ecosystem has evolved. The more resources the most powerful organizations, especially the federal and city governments, bring to, or threaten to withhold from, the ecosystem, the more crucial it becomes to “leverage” the strengths of the community to influence their priorities. In the 2010s, NY Tech Meetup showed that the community could achieve results by lobbying elected officials and demonstrating in the streets. But leaders within the ecosystem realized that speaking for the community on a regular basis would guarantee them (p.64) influence at a much earlier stage. They wanted a seat at the table where important city policies were made, not just procurement decisions but regulatory policies that affected their companies and investments.
Years ago, before the fiscal crisis of the 1970s, such policy discussions would have included CEOs of the city’s biggest companies, citywide elected officials and their aides, and heads of major public- and private-sector labor unions. In the 2010s, government officials and corporate CEOs were deeply involved in the tech space, but labor unions had little influence there. By 2015, tech had grown so big—and there was so much demand for the city council to regulate businesses like Uber and Airbnb that used digital platforms to “disrupt” influential industries—that tech companies and the venture capitalists who backed them decided the time had come to express their policy demands more directly. The tech community was also uneasy because of the de Blasio administration’s hesitation in publicly charting a path for how the new administration would help the industry.23
Yet the growing tech community was not organized to speak with a single voice; moreover, more than in the Bay Area, it was divided between big and small firms in different kinds of businesses. Most people who would claim to belong to the tech community were young and not politically connected. In an increasingly fraught situation, two new organizations emerged to speak for the community’s interests. One was Tech:NYC, an association of tech companies and venture capitalists. The other was NY Tech Alliance, created by a merger of NY Tech Meetup and the New York Technology Council, a local trade group for the software industry. Neither organization claimed to speak for tech workers, but it wasn’t clear which organization would speak for tech capital.
Tech:NYC had VC star power and the city’s leading tech companies on its side, including Bloomberg, Facebook, AOL, and Google, and signed up four hundred members within a week of launching in May 2016 (see figure 1). According to its co-chair, Tim Armstrong, then CEO of AOL, the organization aimed to bring “the university system, the startup community, the large corporate community, and a lot of the nonprofits together in one group.” The group would leverage the assets of the tech community for one goal: to influence policy. Fred Wilson, Armstrong’s co-chair and one of the city’s leading venture capitalists, made the point even more explicit. Tech:NYC was “working,” Wilson said, “on making (p.65) sure that the tech sector has a seat at the table whenever any important issue is being discussed at the state or local level. . . . It’s literally a seat at the table.” Speaking, with Armstrong, at a TechCrunch Disrupt conference in Brooklyn, Wilson explained, half patiently and half ironically, “This is what happens. There are meetings convened inside city hall, in Albany [the state capital], in other parts of government, even outside of government, where . . . the government people get together with the real estate industry, or the finance industry, or whatever, and they talk about stuff. . . . And we want a seat at that table.”24
Wilson understood what such a seat was worth. A veteran of the dot-com era, he had come to New York in the late 1980s with an engineering degree from MIT and an MBA from the Wharton School, and cofounded two small but highly successful venture capital firms, managing up to a billion dollars of investments. He was known for having invested early in Etsy, Kickstarter, and Twitter; blogging frankly and often about his views; and supporting initiatives to expand computer science education in the public schools. Wilson was a great advocate for New York City; he had grown local roots during his career there. But now he and Armstrong wanted to push the city government to address what they saw as the tech community’s top priorities. “We’re trying to grow an economy here,” Wilson said. “We’re 20 percent of the New York economy in the past 10 years. . . . We want to make sure that our industry is getting what we need.”
At the top of their list was “funding for housing,” Armstrong said, “and where the [industrial] business zones are going to go. Does technology get (p.66) financial breaks for building businesses here rather than in another area of the country?” Wilson said, “New rules and regulations are being put out all the time. I heard there are, like, five drone bills before the city council this year. . . . It makes sense, we should have some rules. But it also makes sense to have people from the tech sector, particularly people who know a lot about drones, to be involved in those conversations.”
Armstrong and Wilson were urging policymakers to use the expertise in the tech community to make more rational policy decisions. But they were also advocating for the interests of tech companies: less stringent regulation, more favorable taxes and financial incentives, fewer restrictions on new products. Like many other cities, New York was embroiled in prolonged, contentious discussions about how to handle social “disruptions” caused by new tech companies: on-demand car services like Uber that took customers from medallion taxis that had long enjoyed an official monopoly on car-hailing services, illegal hotels in the form of short-term Airbnb rentals that competed with real hotels and sucked up apartments in a tight housing market, and digital platforms like Upwork and TaskRabbit that arranged temporary jobs for freelance workers who didn’t get paid. New York–based VCs had investments in these companies. If they gained a seat at the table, they might be able to get the companies a more sympathetic hearing and more favorable treatment.25
As Wilson suggested, though, city hall was not Tech:NYC’s only target. The state legislature in Albany, New York, exercised control over issues like housing rentals—which were very important to Airbnb. State lawmakers also had the authority to require online marketplaces like Amazon and Etsy to collect sales taxes on purchases made by, or shipped to, buyers in New York State—which these companies regarded as an unfair burden. These were two cases where Tech:NYC could try to protect their members’ interests against the interests of other groups.26
Most important, the ability to “leverage” the tech community could enable Tech:NYC to influence potentially restrictive national legislation, especially on immigration. In 2017, after the new presidential administration of Donald J. Trump made clear its intentions to ban immigrants from specific countries, limit the entry of others, and deport the “Dreamers” (children who had been brought to the United States illegally but had lived, studied, and worked here for years), Tech:NYC sent a letter on behalf of all its members to President Trump and issued several briefs arguing against his policies. They also introduced Tech Takes Action, “a tool for the New York (p.67) tech community to stand up for our ideals,” which was a web- and social-media-based platform for mobilizing donations, volunteers, and letters to elected officials in defense of immigrants’ rights.27
But as Tim Armstrong’s reference to “business zones” suggests, New York’s tech community also has a significant interest in policy involving the city’s hottest commodity: real estate. Tech companies’ expansion in New York often pits them against traditional manufacturers that occupy land that is zoned only for manufacturing. Although computer hardware companies qualify as “manufacturers” and can legally rent space in industrial business zones, tech and creative offices cannot. Because they pay higher rents than manufacturers and enjoy the reputation of an economic ecosystem on the rise, tech and creative firms “invade” industrial zones without incurring penalties. Building owners prefer them to manufacturers, and the city government is reluctant to threaten their expansion. For these reasons tech and creative firms share a common interest with the powerful real estate lobby; they want zoning laws to be changed to make more land available for offices and less for manufacturing. The pressure they exert on the city government to change the zoning laws is especially strong in Brooklyn, but it affects the industrially zoned Garment District in Midtown Manhattan as well.
In 2015, the city planning department started to revise the laws on industrial business zones (IBZs). Although years of data showed a consistent decrease in manufacturing employment, the city’s remaining manufacturers complained that illegal uses of land zoned for manufacturing made rents rise above their ability to pay and limited their ability to expand. Since the 1960s, zoning changes had favored residential over manufacturing use, and factory owners were bitter because the city failed to enforce existing protections in the IBZs. After 2005, following the residential rezoning and redevelopment of Williamsburg, competition for land became especially severe in and around the North Brooklyn IBZ. In 2015, to manufacturers’ chagrin, the department of city planning floated the idea of establishing a new “innovation district” for tech and creative work in the part of this IBZ that was nearest to subway lines; factories would be restricted to a “core industrial” corridor alongside the heavily polluted Newtown Creek. At the same time, on the waterfront in Sunset Park in south Brooklyn, the owners of the massive Industry City complex were trying to get the predominantly working-class residential community of Chinese and Latinos to support a zoning change that would transform the manufacturing zone there into an (p.68) “Innovation Economy hub.” This would allow the owners to convert some of their vacant industrial space to hotels.28
Most prominently, the de Blasio administration was pushing the remaining manufacturers in the Garment District and their suppliers to move from valuable midtown Manhattan real estate to city-owned industrial buildings near Industry City. The Garment District stood between WeWork’s intended corporate headquarters and Hudson Yards, a newly built, corporate office–luxury residence–and culture district; Google and Microsoft were nearby, and coworking spaces and VC offices were already spilling over into the Garment District from the Flatiron neighborhood to the south. With an innovation ecosystem in full expansion, the stakes of gaining access to land in all these areas were high. If Tech:NYC got “a seat at the table” on zoning issues, it could mean more office space for the tech ecosystem and less land for everyone else.29
The other new organization, the NY Tech Alliance, aimed “to represent, inspire, support, and help lead the New York technology community and ecosystem to create a better future for all.” Both its founding groups, NY Tech Meetup and the New York Technology Council, were nonprofit trade associations.30 They had similar mission statements and complementary programs and memberships: corporate members at the technology council, individual members at NYTM. Moreover, Jessica Lawrence Quinn explained, funders refused to donate money to one group if they already sponsored the other. For these practical reasons, she told me, in 2016, the two organizations decided to merge.31
Although both NY Tech Meetup and the New York Technology Council had a history of advocating for the tech industry and lobbying government on proposed legislation, the new organization, NY Tech Alliance, did not establish the same kind of activist profile as Tech:NYC. Neither did it explicitly demand “a seat at the table.” Instead, NY Tech Alliance continued to sponsor NYTM’s monthly tech meetups and hold informational meetings to educate startup founders about business issues as the technology council had done. Nonetheless, because of all the people who had signed up for NYTM over the years, and the continued presence of Andrew Rasiej and Jessica Lawrence Quinn in the leadership of both NY Tech Meetup and NY Tech Alliance, the new organization claimed to speak for a sizable community of sixty thousand members.32
As if this situation wasn’t complicated enough, with both Tech:NYC and NY Tech Alliance advocating for New York’s tech community, a third (p.69) organization, Civic Hall, also vied for influence and resources. However, in contrast to both Tech:NYC and NY Tech Alliance, its epistemic community was based in civic tech, the use of nonprofit digital platforms “for the public good.” Civic tech practitioners produce apps for users to find data collected by government agencies, report complaints to government offices, and access government benefit programs; they also design software to make government bureaucracies and nonprofit organizations more efficient and effective. As an aspirational organization, Civic Hall aimed to influence policies on the global level—to use digital technology to protect free media, promote governmental transparency, and work for democracy. Like Tech:NYC and NY Tech Alliance, however, Civic Hall also had an eye on local resources. In their case, they wanted a permanent home in city-owned real estate.
Like Fred Wilson and Dawn Barber, Civic Hall’s founder and CEO, Andrew Rasiej, is both an advocate for, and a connector in, New York’s tech community. A compact man with graying, wavy hair, Rasiej met with me in Civic Hall’s old office near the Flatiron Building and proudly showed me around (see figure 2). He told me that he began “building community” in 2003, when he and Micah Sifry, a former editor of The Nation, founded the Personal Democracy Forum, an “international cross-partisan conference series that examines and analyzes how technology is impacting the evolving global political landscape.” At first glance, this would not seem to be a natural outgrowth of his earlier career as a music promoter and nightclub owner. But Andrew began moving into the tech space when he founded Digital Club Network, an early digital network for livestreaming and archiving music, followed by other businesses that produced live music experiences. In the late 1990s, Rasiej founded MOUSE.org (Making Opportunities for Upgrading Schools and Education), a nonprofit organization to expand tech education in underserved public schools. Embracing the reputation of a philanthropic entrepreneur, he is connected to both Fred Wilson, the venture capitalist and cochair of Tech:NYC, and Evan Korth, the NYU computer science professor and cofounder of hackNY.33
During the next dozen years, Rasiej’s career as an activist bloomed. He worked on Howard Dean’s campaign for the 2004 Democratic presidential nomination, ran for election as citywide public advocate in New York by promising to expand access to digital technology, and devoted his energies (p.70) to developing strategies for using digital technology “to empower local communities and disadvantaged groups.” Like many startup founders, Rasiej traces his ambition to a formative experience in his family’s history. He discovered on a trip with his dad to Poland, the family’s homeland, that during the 1930s his grandfather had built a community center in his village before being arrested and killed by the Soviet secret police in the Katyn Forest Massacre. Somehow, he applied this to New York today. “One of the secrets of building community around altruistic civic innovation,” Rasiej said, “is to bring together diverse people from diverse sectors—government, not-for-profit, technology, media people, activists, corporates—and connect them with each other in an atmosphere that encourages collaboration.”34
Much as Scott Heiferman said he drew insight after 9/11 from listening to his neighbors, Rasiej told me he learned from talking with participants in the conferences organized by the Personal Democracy Forum that (p.71) “people were pining for a physical space to meet together regularly, not just at an annual conference.” The space should be broad in scope but offer intense interactions, and it must sustain these interactions beyond the day or two of a single event. “More than a hackathon space” was needed, he said, but “less than an incubator.” And it had to be functionally, professionally, and institutionally diverse: “We wanted a space where a government official could come if they wanted to develop an app. Or an engineer from Facebook or Google who wanted to work in their free time on welfare reform.” He envisioned an activists’ space but one that would be free from ideology and political party affiliations, open to everyone who worked with digital technology for the public good: a workspace that would find a niche in the competitive market for coworking spaces and partnerships. Civic Hall would “use the physical space as a lever with the community to try to tackle long-standing civic and social problems,” Rasiej said. No doubt this leverage would also help the organization itself to grow bigger and more influential.35
In 2015, Civic Hall rented an 18,500-square-foot floor in a majestic early twentieth-century office building on Fifth Avenue in the Flatiron District and opened a collaborative workspace for civic tech. On a typical weekday afternoon, you would see more than a hundred people working on their laptops at the long, white tables, hanging out in the kitchen area and café, and meeting in the event space that could seat up to two hundred participants. Sponsored by Microsoft, the Omidyar Network (funded by the founder of eBay), and Google, Civic Hall soon counted eight hundred members, including twenty-four organizations that spanned the city’s public, private, and nonprofit sectors from IBM to the New York City Economic Development Corporation and the Municipal Art Society. Although it offered the same tiers of membership as any other coworking space, with monthly fees that determined access to the facilities, Andrew said that the membership was recruited rather than market driven and reflected the depth of the city’s commitment to solving social problems. He said New York City “has historically been an empathy place” because of both the large number of philanthropic and nonprofit organizations and “an equally empathetic tech community that wants to change the world for the better.”
Civic Hall soon added “a nonprofit R&D arm,” Civic Hall Labs. This part of the organization ran a training program for “civic entrepreneurs” and “civic inventors,” connected “digital professionals” from local companies to (p.72) do volunteer work “on meaningful projects for local NYC organizations working towards a more equitable, just and democratic society,” and created an incubator to “catalyze innovation” in public health. Civic Hall Labs also organized workshops for participants in NYC Big Apps 2017, an annual competition initiated by the Bloomberg administration and continued under Mayor de Blasio, where awards are presented to people and groups who develop new digital platforms to improve municipal services. Through the Big Apps project, Civic Hall became both a social partner of, and an independent contractor for, the New York City Economic Development Corporation.36
Rasiej found a very enthusiastic partner in John Paul Farmer, director of technology and innovation at Microsoft’s New York office. When I spoke with Farmer at Civic Hall, he emphasized Microsoft’s long-standing commitment to civic tech and traced it to the ideas of his immediate supervisor, Dan’l Lewin, the company’s vice president for strategic and emerging business development, and several other high-ranking executives. Farmer said they “wanted a feedback loop between the company and the world.” This sounds very much like the kind of altruism Civic Hall encourages. “They wanted to be very local, participatory, networked,” John Paul Farmer said. “They recognized they didn’t have all the answers. . . . With urbanization there are a lot of pressing challenges.”37
But Microsoft’s early adoption of civic tech involved more than altruism. According to a tech columnist in San José, California, Dan’l Lewin was “an influential advocate for Microsoft in Silicon Valley” who during the 1990s greatly improved the “poisonous” relations between the company and the local community. One way he did this was by providing free Microsoft products to startups and persuading the companies to use them, very much like corporate sponsors of hackathons. Using Civic Hall to expand this strategy—by putting free Microsoft products in the hands of “civic entrepreneurs”—could encourage them to become Microsoft’s “partners.” And if this strategy worked in New York, it could work anywhere.38
Yet Farmer, a broad-shouldered man in his late thirties with curly red hair, is as passionate an evangelist for civic tech as Andrew Rasiej. He is also one of the few Americans who have combined an Ivy League education with a brief career as a minor league baseball player. Like Rasiej, Farmer traces his interest in civic tech to his family’s commitment to improving community; in his case, he said, his family included urban planners. After graduating from Harvard and earning an MBA at Columbia, John worked (p.73) on Wall Street—first at Lehman Brothers until that firm went bankrupt in 2007 and then at Credit Suisse—but he told me he left the finance world because he wanted “to help people . . . to have a huge impact.” Luckily for him, the former mayor of Washington, DC, introduced him to “the guy who [ran] hiring for . . . [President] Obama.”
When he joined the Obama administration, John was asked to use his background in finance to help gain acceptance for the Affordable Care Act in the private sector. He soon “got involved with new technology” to make health-care data available online and was recruited to work in the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy. There Farmer helped to start the Presidential Innovation Fellows Program and “identified some important projects,” including programs for procurement and open data. “Then we focused on startups,” he said, before trying to fix the disastrously malfunctioning first version of the website Healthcare.gov, which threatened to derail the Affordable Care Act before it had even begun.
After four years at the White House, Farmer was recruited by Microsoft to work on civic tech. “What we can provide here are resources,” he said, “hardware, software, money, space, convening power. Some of these were lying dormant, not used. They were missed opportunities. Microsoft was paying for real estate and had smart people.” At that time, more than thirty Microsoft employees worked in US cities away from the corporate headquarters in Redmond, Washington; at any time, between six and ten of them were in New York. They were tasked with developing prototypes of products and services to help local communities—products that could then be scaled and sold to other cities around the world.
Farmer developed a synergy between Microsoft and Civic Hall that helped to embed the company in New York’s tech community. It wasn’t Microsoft’s only business strategy, but it was important. Some Microsoft employees used Civic Hall as a workspace, getting to know the civic entrepreneurs and digital activists who worked there. Farmer and his assistant organized events and made themselves available to help at other people’s meetings. They facilitated contacts between members of Civic Hall—“civic entrepreneurs”—and professors like me who brought their students to visit. The company could use these opportunities to leverage the civic tech community for Microsoft’s advantage. Yet John Paul Farmer truly believed that good policy needs good technology; this is what the near-debacle of the Affordable Care Act’s malfunctioning website had taught him. And this brought him close to Andrew Rasiej’s position.
(p.74) Except that Rasiej was not in a position to influence policy in New York; he didn’t have a seat at the table. For years he had spoken and written about two issues—broadband access and computer science education—trying to influence policy by lobbying personal contacts and writing op-ed pieces. Sometimes he succeeded, but the process was slow. After de Blasio’s election, Rasiej encouraged the tech community to give the new mayor a chance and volunteer to work with him on tech initiatives. Within a couple of years, however, Rasiej saw an opportunity to volunteer that might help Civic Hall. Like many New Yorkers, Civic Hall had a rent issue. When it was time for the organization to renew the lease on their office, the landlord tried to raise the rent by 40 percent. Although Civic Hall was able to move to another space nearby, it was less than half the size of their former quarters. They needed a better solution.39
Around this time, the de Blasio administration became deeply involved in developing spaces for “innovation” around the city. Both the real estate industry and independent experts believed there was a serious shortage of commercial space for tech and creative offices. During the Bloomberg administration, the New York City Economic Development Corporation had begun to use city-owned buildings that NYCEDC managed to open incubators and accelerators for tech startups. They did this in partnership with for-profit companies and not-for-profit universities: the triple helix in action. The de Blasio administration kept this process going but added a crucial, “social” component. On the one hand, the new mayor would spread economic development to innovation sites throughout the city, especially in areas where low-income groups and ethnic and racial minorities lived. On the other hand, NYCEDC would build a flagship project for workforce training in a central location: “a new tech hub” on city-owned land south of the Flatiron District near Union Square.40
The tech hub was envisioned as a mixed-use project, an “iconic commercial development” with both “commercial space [offices] for technology, creative, and/or innovation companies” and educational facilities to “support the development of 21st-century workforce skills.” Managing the educational facilities could be an interesting opportunity for Civic Hall. But Andrew Rasiej would have to partner with a real estate developer to take charge of construction.41
During the next few months, Civic Hall entered into a partnership with RAL, a local real estate development company, to develop a bid to NYCEDC to lease the land near Union Square. While the real estate developer would (p.75) deal with the requirements of building codes, environmental impact statements, and local community board approvals, the nonprofit organization would take charge of the building’s social programs. Mainly, Civic Hall would manage educational programs for less-advantaged city residents and convene tech events for social inclusion, helping the administration to pursue the mayor’s goal of “good jobs for all,” and creating a tech space for “New Yorkers from all backgrounds.” In return, Civic Hall would be the anchor tenant on six of the building’s twenty-one floors, getting a twenty-five-year lease at a rent that was “substantially reduced” from the market rate.42
In December 2016, NYCEDC awarded RAL a ninety-nine-year lease on the land for the tech hub. Two months later, at a high-profile event in the offices of AppNexus, a digital advertising company in the Flatiron District, Mayor de Blasio unveiled the developer’s preliminary architectural designs for the building and Civic Hall’s tentative plans for training programs. While the building’s top floors would offer offices at market rents for established tech companies, the floors beneath them—58,000 square feet—would be dedicated to “fluid space” for startups on flexible short-term leases at lower rents. The ground floor would house a café and food shops open to the public; at the local community board’s insistence, at least 25 percent of the vendors would be what the developer called local small business owners. Civic Hall would have several floors—36,500 square feet—in the middle section of the building for classrooms and meeting rooms to be “supported by a diverse network of technologists, makers and social entrepreneurs.” To teach the courses, Rasiej assembled a group of nonprofit organizations that were already engaged in government-funded, tech workforce development for low- and middle-income New Yorkers, mostly in the outer boroughs, and added General Assembly, a for-profit coding school that was founded nearby in 2011. “No other city in the nation has anything like it,” the mayor said about the tech hub. “It represents this city’s commitment to a strong and inclusive tech ecosystem.”43
Speaking in turn at the event, Mayor de Blasio and Andrew Rasiej showed a remarkable meeting of minds. First, Rasiej called New York the “greatest and most equitable city of the twenty-first century.” Then, de Blasio paid tribute to the “most socially conscious tech community in the country.” Both said the tech hub would achieve the mayor’s most important aims: economic development and job creation for “all New Yorkers,” graduates of the City University of New York as well as graduates of Cornell Tech, and high school graduates who never went to college.44
(p.76) The building, in fact, illustrates both continuities and contrasts in economic development strategy in the Bloomberg and de Blasio administrations. On the one hand, the tech offices should do what Mayor Bloomberg had wanted: keep startup founders in the city. On the other hand, the training programs should do what de Blasio wanted: make the tech community more inclusive. Moreover, de Blasio said, warming to Rasiej’s portrayal of Civic Hall’s mission, the tech hub is “about protecting democracy, protecting an open society.” While training for tech jobs that pay $65,000 a year will make “better and fairer lives for all New Yorkers,” the tech hub will help in “keeping this the open city, a place for everyone.”
Three years after the new mayor’s election, he and Andrew Rasiej preened in the same idealism. Civic Hall had leveraged the tech community for a place in the city’s innovation complex.
New York stories are often about real estate, and the New York tech community’s story is no exception. Whether the real estate is government-subsidized workspace, a tech hub, or a “seat at the [policy] table,” organizations that claim to represent the community leverage its assets—its numbers, its social capital, its venture investments — to gain a place in the innovation complex. If “building the community” means adding more people and companies, “leveraging the community” means gaining more resources for them. The stories of NY Tech Meetup, Tech:NYC, and Civic Hall show the strategic importance of “community” organizations in the innovation economy: they mobilize social and political capital to amass financial power.
Yet individual men and women are important. Despite changes in both digital technology and mayoral administrations, the connectors and conveners who became organizational nodes between 2002 and 2015—people like Fred Wilson, Andrew Rasiej, and Dawn Barber—played a crucial role in forming the ecosystem. They fostered the interactions, developed the rules, and represented the claims of an emerging epistemic community that wanted to influence policy and access resources.
Wilson, Rasiej, and Barber all gained their first experience in the early tech community during the 1990s dot-com boom. When that era ended in a financial crash, they went underground to heal their wounds. By 2003, they had reemerged, regrouped, and begun to rebuild the community. After (p.77) the financial crisis of 2008, the community grew larger and more important to the city’s economy. An ecosystem formed around digital technology, companies that developed and sold it, and government agencies and nonprofit organizations that provided significant support. During the next few years, with the explosive growth of digital platforms like Uber and Airbnb that competed with established industries and threatened social communities, tech businesses decided they had to leverage the strategic knowledge, numbers, and reputation of the tech community to try to gain influence and resources. New organizations became tech advocates. Like many tech companies, these organizations went through their own corporate consolidations. When I saw Dawn Barber after WeWork bought Meetup and NY Tech Meetup merged with the New York Technology Council, she said, “This is an M&A-ish time.”45
Veterans of the city’s dot-com era were not the only builders of the ecosystem. After 2010, younger people like Jessica Lawrence Quinn and John Paul Farmer brought to New York their experience working in the nonprofit sector, big tech corporations, and the federal (or state) government. Their careers underlined the significance of public-private-nonprofit partnerships that were now the default mode of governing the new economy. Partly this reflected the widespread adoption of the “triple helix” model of collaboration between industry, government, and universities that supported the historical growth of regional research centers like Silicon Valley. Partly, too, public-private-nonprofit governance extended the use of public-private partnerships from managing New York’s shopping streets and public parks to managing economic development. These partnerships increased pressure on the public and nonprofit partners—city government and universities—to be more “entrepreneurial,” a goal close to the desires of top business leaders and groups like the World Economic Forum. Yet, as the investor David S. Rose told me when I spoke with him about the founding of digital.nyc, people in the tech space saw the public-private-nonprofit model as a win-win-win strategy for everyone.
Like hackathons, meetups show that face-to-face interactions continue to be important in the tech space. Meetups are strategically significant because they make it easy to transfer knowledge and set up collaboration. They also establish trust between different kinds of people whose relationships feed the ecosystem, some people with innovative ideas and others with investment capital.
(p.78) No one understands these relationships better than venture capitalists. During the past two decades, they have intensified the direct links between capital and innovation by building an important space for tech startups: the accelerator. In contrast to monthly NY Tech Meetups where presenters are not permitted to discuss their business plan, everyone in accelerators is trying to raise money all the time.
(1.) NY Tech Meetup: I made these ethnographic observations on December 15, 2015, and interviewed Dawn Barber on November 23, 2015, and December 14, 2017.
(4.) Interview, Dawn Barber, 2015.
(5.) Encourage women in tech: interview with Jessica Lawrence Quinn, December 10, 2015, interview conducted by Michael Indergaard.
(7.) See https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/artiphon/introducing-the-artiphon-instrument-1, March 3, 2015, accessed August 26, 2018; “The 25 Best Inventions of 2015,” http://time.com/4115398/best-inventions-2015/, November 19, 2015, accessed August 26, 2018.
(8.) Inspiration and model: in his book Startup Communities: Building an Entrepreneurial Ecosystem in Your City (Hoboken, NJ: Wiley, 2012), venture capitalist Brad Feld describes starting a meetup modeled on NYTM in Boulder, Colorado, in 2006. NYTM membership: NY Tech Meetup website, December 2015, URL no longer operational; interviews with Dawn Barber, 2015, and Jessica Lawrence Quinn, 2015. Vetting: interviews, Jessica Lawrence Quinn, 2015 and January 2018.
(9.) NYTM origins: interview, Dawn Barber, 2015; Max Nisen, “INFOGRAPHIC: The Unusual Career Path of Meetup CEO Scott Heiferman,” http://www.businessinsider.com/scott-heiferman-startup-career-history-2013-6, June 7, 2013, accessed December 22, 2017. Meetup funding: https://www.crunchbase.com/organization/meetup, accessed December 22, 2017.
(10.) Interview, Dawn Barber, 2015; Scott Heiferman, “Celebrating Opportunity at the First-Ever Tech Meetup at the White House,” http://blog.meetup.com/creating-opportunity/, April 17, 2015, accessed December 29, 2017.
(11.) The ABNY awards that year “honored [several] outstanding public officials, entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and advocates working to support New York City’s growing technology sector,” including the deputy mayor for economic development and the CEO of Foursquare; Barber was the advocate who was honored, and the venture capitalist was Alan Patricof, whom Dawn calls a mentor. Association for a Better New York, Annual Report 2012, http://abny.org/images/downloads/Annual_Reports/annual_report_2012_final.pdf, December 11, 2012, accessed August 27, 2018.
(12.) Feld, Startup Communities; he was blogging about the utility of meetups as early as 2010: Brad Feld, “How to Create a Sustainable Entrepreneurial Community,” https://www.pehub.com/2010/10/how-to-create-a-sustainable-entrepreneurial-community/#, October 28, 2010, accessed January 8, 2018. Meetups are also recommended in Victor Mulas, Michael Minges, and Hallie Applebaum, Boosting Tech Innovation Ecosystems in Cities (Washington, DC: World Bank, 2015).
(13.) Inter-organizational networks: AnnaLee Saxenian, Regional Advantage: Culture and Competition in Silicon Valley and Route 128 (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1994).
(14.) Prefer not to travel: interviews with New York–based VCs, 2015–2016.
(15.) “Policy points,” “holistically”: interview, Jessica Lawrence Quinn, 2015.
(16.) Tantoco at meetup: from my ethnographic observations, April 11, 2016.
(17.) Interview, Jessica Lawrence Quinn, 2015.
(18.) Bloomberg’s visit: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z6A6R7hI70o, October 12, 2011, accessed July 4, 2017. Bloomberg had made the same pitch a year earlier to a similar audience when he made a surprise visit to the big TechCrunch Disrupt conference in New York. Eliot van Buskirk, “Mayor Bloomberg Touts New York as Next Tech Mecca,” https://www.wired.com/2010/05/mayor-bloomberg-touts-new-york-as-next-tech-mecca/, May 25, 2010, accessed July 4, 2017.
(19.) Peter M. Haas, “Introduction: Epistemic Communities and International Policy Coordination,” International Organization 46, no. 1 (Winter 1992): 1–35; Michael Storper, Thomas Kemeny, Naji Makarem, and Taner Osman, The Rise and Fall of Urban Economies: Lessons From San Francisco and Los Angeles (Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press, 2015).
(20.) Interview, Jessica Lawrence Quinn, 2015; The New York City Tech Ecosystem: Generating Jobs for All New Yorkers (New York: HR&A Advisors, 2015); Dawn Barber interview, 2015.
(21.) The term “triple helix” reflects the formative work of Henry Etzkowitz—for example, Henry Etzkowitz, “Innovation in Innovation: The Triple Helix of University-Industry-Government Relations,” Social Science Information 42 (2003): 293–338, and The Triple Helix: University-Industry-Government Innovation in Action (London: Routledge, 2008). Origins of public-private partnerships: Perry Davis, ed., Public-Private Partnerships: Improving Urban Life, Proceedings of the Academy of Political Science 36, no. 2 (New York:Academy of Political Science, 1986); Miriam Greenberg, Branding New York: How a City in Crisis Was Sold to the World (New York: Routledge, 2008). World Economic Forum: Christina Garsten and Adrienne Sörbom, Discreet Power: How the World Economic Forum Shapes Market Agendas (Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2018).
(23.) Other issues involved the de Blasio administration’s procurement policies, use of open data, and failure to develop initiatives going beyond those of the Bloomberg administration. Miranda Neubauer, “City Tech Approach Gets Mixed Grades Two Years In,” https://www.politico.com/states/new-york/city-hall/story/2016/03/city-tech-approach-gets-mixed-grades-two-years-in-099483, March 11, 2016, accessed August 29, 2018.
(24.) Quotes taken from the video interview posted in Jonathan Shieber, “Fred Wilson and Tim Armstrong Say Policy Matters for New York’s Tech Growth,” https://techcrunch.com/2016/05/10/fred-wilson-and-tim-armstrong-say-policy-matters-for-new-yorks-tech-growth/, May 10, 2016, accessed September 23, 2016.
(25.) Throughout 2015 and 2016, the de Blasio administration and the city council studied and debated how to regulate—or even ban—car-hailing services like Uber that use digital platforms, until plans were indefinitely shelved in the face of intense lobbying by the company that persuaded many voters, especially in the outer boroughs, to oppose controls. Not until 2018 did the mayor and city council muster enough public support to impose a one-year ban on new licenses while the city’s for-hire car industry would be studied. At this point, after six suicides by taxi and car-hire drivers that were linked to their low earnings, the de Blasio administration emphasized both growing complaints about traffic congestion in Manhattan and severe economic hardships borne by both medallion taxi drivers and Uber drivers. Among the many media accounts, compare (p.252) Issie Lapowsky, “Uber Wins Its Battle Against NYC’s Mayor—For Now,” https://www.wired.com/2015/07/uber-wins-battle-nyc-mayor-now/, July 22, 2015, accessed August 26, 2018; Ginia Bellafante, “Big City: Uber and the False Hopes of the Sharing Economy,” https://www.nytimes.com/2018/08/09/nyregion/uber-nyc-vote-drivers-ride-sharing.html?login=email&auth=login-email, August 9, 2018, accessed August 9, 2018; Greg Bensinger, “For Uber and Airbnb, New York City Turns Foe,” https://www.wsj.com/articles/for-uber-and-airbnb-new-york-city-turns-foe-1533843330, August 9, 2018, accessed August 27, 2018; Shoshana Wodinsky, “In Major Defeat for Uber and Lyft, New York City Votes to Limit Ride-Hailing Cars,” https://www.theverge.com/2018/8/8/17661374/uber-lyft-nyc-cap-vote-city-council-new-york-taxi, August 8, 2018, accessed August 26, 2018. The city faced a similar situation with Airbnb. In 2016, the New York State legislature passed, and the governor signed, a law making it illegal for apartment dwellers to rent their housing for a period of less than thirty days. Alison Griswold, “New York Made It Illegal to Advertise Your Apartment on Airbnb for Less Than 30 Days,” https://qz.com/816486/new-york-governor-andrew-cuomo-signed-a-law-making-it-illegal-to-advertise-your-apartment-on-airbnb-for-less-than-30-days/, October 21, 2016, accessed January 13, 2018. Also in 2016, the city council passed a law protecting freelance workers from wage theft: https://www1.nyc.gov/site/dca/about/freelance-isnt-free-act.page, accessed January 13, 2018. Although most of these companies were not founded in New York, New York VCs were among their investors.
(26.) Jonathan Shieber, “A Year After Its Launch, Tech:NYC Has Become a Force in New York Politics,” https://techcrunch.com/2017/05/24/a-year-after-its-launch-technyc-has-become-a-force-in-new-york-politics/, May 24, 2017, accessed August 29, 2018.
(27.) Julie Samuels, “Why We Wrote to President Trump,” https://www.technyc.org/posts/2017/1/30/why-we-wrote-,o-president-trump, January 30, 2017, and other pages on the Tech:NYC website, accessed January 17, 2018.
(28.) Advocates for manufacturing believed that DCP in general favored tech and creative offices over manufacturing while some programs in NYCEDC were more open to their interests. Yet NYCEDC listed “innovation” as their highest priority. Interviews, Leah Archibald, September 2016; Adam Friedman, August 2016; interview with James Patchett, president, NYCEDC, in Ben Max, “What's the Data Point? Episode 26—$3.2 Billion, with James Patchett,” http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7417-what-s-the-data-point-3-2-billion-with-james-patchett, January 12, 2018, accessed January 17, 2018. On the North Brooklyn IBZ and proposed innovation district: http://www1.nyc.gov/site/planning/plans/north-brooklyn-vision-plan/north-brooklyn-vision-plan.page, September 28, 2016, accessed January 13, 2018. On Industry City, “Draft Scope of Work for an Environmental Impact Statement for Industry City, 220 36th Street, Brooklyn, New York,” https://www1.nyc.gov/assets/planning/download/pdf/applicants/env-review/industry-city/draft-scope.pdf, September 14, 2017; Tanay Warerkar, “Rezoning of Sunset Park’s Industry City Complex Is on the Horizon,” https://ny.curbed.com/2017/10/23/16524818/industry-city-sunset-park-rezoning, October 23, 2017, accessed January 18, 2018.
(29.) On the Garment District: Joe Anuta, “City Unveils Garment District Rezoning Plan,” http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20170323/REAL_ESTATE/170329937/new-york-city-unveils-garment-district-rezoning-plan, March 23, 2017; Rich Bockmann, “De Blasio Administration Puts a Pin in Plan to Rezone Garment District,” https://therealdeal.com/2017/08/21/city-puts-a-pin-in-plan-to-rezone-garment-district/, August 21, 2017, accessed January 18, 2018.
(30.) Section 501(c)6 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code sets out rules for nonprofit trade organizations.
(31.) Interview, Jessica Lawrence Quinn, 2018.
(33.) Interview, Andrew Rasiej, December 2015; https://personaldemocracy.com/about-us and https://andrewrasiej.squarespace.com/bio/, n.d., accessed January 18, 2018; Lawrence Carrel, “Digital Club Network Sees Gold in Archived Music Performances,” https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB934920130869063921, September 24, 1999, accessed January 18, 2018; Andrew Rasiej, “What New York’s New Mayor Must Do About the Future of Tech in Silicon Alley,” https://www.businessinsider.com/new-york-mayor-bill-de-blasio-tech-policy-2013-11, November 18, 2013, accessed August 27, 2018.
(34.) Interview, Andrew Rasiej; Kristen Meriwether, “In New Civic Tech Hub, A Family Legacy of Community Building Continues,” http://www.gothamgazette.com/government/5519-in-new-civic-tech-hub-a-family-legacy-of-community-building-continues, January 19, 2015, accessed January 18, 2018.
(37.) Interview, John Paul Farmer, January 2016.
(38.) Interview, John Paul Farmer; Chris O’Brien, “O’Brien: Dan’l Lewin Emerges as Influential Advocate for Microsoft in Silicon Valley,” https://www.mercurynews.com/2011/01/06/obrien-danl-lewin-emerges-as-influential-advocate-for-microsoft-in-silicon-valley/, January 6, 2011, accessed January 18, 2018.
(39.) Rasiej, “What New York’s New Mayor Must Do”; Rich Bockmann, “Co-Working Shop Civic Hall Sheds Flatiron Office Over Rent Dispute With HRC Corporation,” https://therealdeal.com/2016/10/17/co-working-shop-civic-hall-sheds-flatiron-office-over-rent-dispute-with-hrc-corporation/, October 17, 2016, accessed January 20, 2018.
(40.) Shortage of space: Hiten Samtani, “Rise of Tech Tenants Changing Office Market,” https://therealdeal.com/2013/11/18/rise-of-tech-tenants-changes-office-market/, November 18, 2013, accessed January 24, 2018. “New tech hub”: Maria Torres-Springer, quoted in Daniel Geiger, “P.C. Richard Store by Union Square Will Be Replaced by a Center for the Creative,” http://www.crainsnewyork.com/article/20151105/REAL_ESTATE/151109933, November 5, 2015, accessed January 21, 2018.
(41.) Envisioned: New York City Economic Development Corporation, 124 East 14th Street Requests for Proposals, https://www.nycedc.com/sites/default/files/files/rfp/qa-documents/124%20E%2014TH%20ST%20RFP%20Info%20Session%20FINAL.pdf, December 18, 2015, accessed January 21, 2018.
(42.) Lease: interview, Jessica Lawrence Quinn, 2018.
(43.) The nonprofit organizations already involved in workforce training were the New York City Foundation for Computer Science Education (Fred Wilson and Evan Korth’s organization), Per Scholas, FedCap, Code to Work, and Pursuit (formerly Coalition for Queens). “Mayor de Blasio Unveils New Design and Programs Coming to Union Square Tech Hub,” https://www.nycedc.com/press-release/mayor-de-blasio-unveils-new-design-and-programs-coming-union-square-tech-hub, February 17, 2017, accessed January 21, 2018; Anthony Ha, “NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio Shows Off Designs (p.254) for Planned Tech Hub,” https://techcrunch.com/2017/02/17/union-square-tech-hub, February 17, 2017, accessed January 21, 2018.
(44.) Quotes from video of the event: “Mayor de Blasio Participates in Discussion With Andrew Rasiej at AppNexus,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=awxX-AdM8UE, February 17, 2017, accessed January 21, 2018. Graduates of City University: Deputy Mayor Alicia Glen made this explicit when she told a reporter: “There are a lot of great kids at Harvard, but there are really great kids at Queens College. If we can make sure [local students] have not just technical skills, but can get in the door at Etsy, at Goldman, at Facebook—they’re going to perform.” Ainsley O’Connell, “New York City’s Tech Community Is Getting a $250 Million Home Base at Union Square,” https://www.fastcompany.com/3066733/fast-cities/new-york-citys-tech-community-is-getting-a-250-million-home-base-at-union-square, December 21, 2016, accessed December 22, 2016.
(45.) Interview, Dawn Barber, 2017.