The Evolution of the NY Tech Scene and Need for Applied Sciences NYC
Andy Dunn is co-founder and CEO of Bonobos, now the largest apparel brand in the United States ever launched over the web.
The start-up scene in New York has transformed dramatically since I arrived in 2007 to co-found Bonobos. At my one bedroom apartment at 17th and Irving where I lived with 400 pairs of pants, I felt alone. Potential employees and vendors eyed me skeptically, a crazy man talking about how the world was going to change. My harebrained vision was that the worlds of technology and consumer retail were about to collide and that room of pants was going to become a company.
Those who believed me were also the crazy ones; they are now founding employees and investors of Bonobos’ wonderful team. From them, and through the grapevine, we heard whispers of others with similar ideas. We met them and befriended them. Alexandra, Alexis, and Kevin at Gilt. The Jennys at Rent the Runway. Dave, Neil and the Warby Parker crew, who came through our offices seeking advice on vertical e-commerce; we now ask them for their insight. Joel and Tracy at StyleOwner. Katia and Hayley at Birchbox. Daniella, Amy and team at Bauble Bar. Chantel at Chloe and Isabel. And the list now goes on and on.
It became clear it was not just technology and branded e-tail (as opposed to blanded e-tail: you know who you are) colliding for the first time, but a technology-enabled movement empowering consumers and individuals emerging out of New York. Foursquare. Etsy. Second Market. Tumblr. Kickstarter. Grovo. ZocDoc. And why wouldn’t it? NYC is the capital of individualism and consumerism. This is the experimental petri dish of humanity. It was only a matter of time before it got technology-enabled. Yes we do have Times Square. All strengths have their shadows.
Like the story of how high schools eventually generate what the pros needs in Michael Lewis’ book The Blind Side, the investors started to show up about five years later. Accel Partners, our cutting edge investors, became the first blue chip west coast firm to set up shop here. Fred, unsurprisingly, was likewise out in front. Charlie and Phin planted the First Round flag. Kirsten of Forerunner Ventures started making trips. Jeremy from Lightspeed is always on the scene. Ben and his dad set up Lerer and did a partnership with SV. Founder Collective sprouted up. Mo and Bijan at Spark Capital. Techstars. Dogpatch. Thrive. And on and on and on and sorry I’m missing you, the money flowed in.
And yet, through all of these exciting arrivals, we must still ask, where are the engineers and the computer scientists? Why does hiring every VP of Engineering candidate take twelve months with four hiccups along the way? How can we afford NOT to have a new graduate school of applied science established right here in New York?
It’s simple: We cannot. Without it, we simply won’t have the talent pipeline we need to maintain this amazing momentum.
I couldn’t be more thrilled by the prospect of Stanford opening its doors on the shores of the East River. The jobs are here, and its presence would bring even more. While America is not winning in all things, we do win, and can continue to win, at innovation. Like the scene in the 90s edition Robin Hood where Kevin Costner kisses the sand, I think I speak for many in the technology scene in New York City when I say, “We are ready to pucker up to your island, sandy beaches or not.”
- Andy Dunn, Stanford GsB 2007
Roosevelt Island Resident: Why Roosevelt Island and Stanford
Alex Fletcher is a Roosevelt Island resident and chemistry teacher.
The first time I laid eyes on Roosevelt Island I knew it was the only place in New York City that I would want to live. Where else in the city can you have a view of the Manhattan Skyline and river access and still be only minutes from midtown? The peaceful nature and tight knit community make Roosevelt Island feel like a peaceful suburb stuck right in the middle of the East River! You actually get to know your neighbors and going to the diner on a Sunday morning is as much a social event as the numerous community activities that occur practically every night. Living “up north” in the Manhattan Park building, I stroll daily down to Main Street and see how the island is changing day by day, with new stores coming in and improvements being made to the island facilities. It makes me proud to live here and excited for what the future holds for Roosevelt Island.
The intention for the community when it was founded was to be a forward thinking, inclusive population that demonstrated how better living could be accomplished in an urban environment. I can’t think of a better way to continue that tradition than to have Stanford join the Roosevelt Island community. The partnership has the potential to enrich the lives of island residents, Stanford students and New Yorkers beyond the scope of what is currently possible given that the city lacks a cutting edge research facility in the applied sciences. As a chemistry teacher, I see the future through the eyes of a scientist. I tell my students, “The more we learn about the world around us, the faster we are to build a brighter future.” Stanford is at the forefront of creating new ways of understanding our world and I believe that through their work that a brighter future is right around the corner.
- Alex Fletcher, Roosevelt Islander
StanfordNYC: Developing the Sustainable City of Tomorrow
Jeff Koseff (pictured above at Machu Picchu) is a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering and the Director of the Woods Institute for the Environment at Stanford University.
What will the city of the future look like?
What materials, technologies and processes will enable a city’s infrastructure systems to sustain its inhabitants and the environment? The best way to answer this question is to bring these sustainable urban systems into the classroom.
Or we can bring the classroom to them.
As an incredibly high-density city that continues to grow, New York will in the next few decades face the massive task of renewing its transportation, communications, energy, and water infrastructure to accommodate population increases, energy demands, climate change, and the need for secure supplies of water, food, and materials. Of all of the compelling things a Stanford campus in New York would yield, one of the most exciting is the potential of a unique interdisciplinary graduate program in which physical scientists, engineers, and social scientists collaborate closely to address the most challenging problems of the sustainable city of tomorrow.
New York City would be their laboratory.
As just one example, let’s examine the way we view waste management.
Today’s waste management systems have been designed under the assumption that centralized is always better. They are enormous, leveraging economies of scale but always seemingly missing out on opportunities for synergy and the potential for resource recovery or reuse. The results of this type of system—one that hinges on collecting and moving huge amounts of so-called refuse—are well-known and ubiquitous. However, the decentralization of infrastructure elements made possible by new engineering technology—coupled with design, control, and integration of these infrastructure elements made possible by new software and computing technology—is creating a fundamental shift in the sustainability of our cities.
Typically thought of as something you’d like to get as far away from as possible, wastewater has the potential to be a gold mine: It is a source of water, it houses all kinds of nutrients and fertilizers, and through chemical conversation it can be a direct source of energy. Developing “scalping” technologies that use wastewater locally to its full potential can dramatically reduce the investment cost for urban infrastructure and transform current operating costs into new sources of jobs and revenue while dramatically reducing their environmental impact. This kind of investment in the natural system is one New Yorkers are quite familiar with: the state’s well-protected and well-preserved watershed in the Catskills enables it to function as one of the best and only unfiltered water delivery systems in the world – avoiding the exorbitant costs of traditional systems.
On Roosevelt Island, we could literally develop and test these kinds of novel technologies that could fundamentally change the way a city works. And the physical location of the campus provides an incredible chance to create a living lab through which to explore the issue of scale. What works on Roosevelt Island could be applied to Manhattan. What works in Manhattan could be scaled well beyond the shores of the Hudson.
This type of research is just one of the many ways that a sustainable urban systems program will change New York. Further down the road, imagine mechanical devices that utilize H2 from H2O as a fuel, replacing traditional combustion engines and reducing CO2 emission to zero. Imagine new composites that replace traditional glass windows with transparent, light-harvesting displays or ‘smart’ insulators that can adapt to real-time changes in environmental conditions.
And, of course, imagine the intellectual property resulting from these efforts that becomes the basis for partnerships or start-up companies seeking to commercialize disruptive technologies. Advances in materials science and engineering fostered by this program will create job opportunities and enhance sustainability and security through the innovative use of local resources, decreasing reliance upon imported energy, water, nutrients, and materials.
In developing the sustainable city of tomorrow, Stanford and New York will be looked to as leaders. What student of the future would not want to be part of all that?
- Jeff Koseff
Mayor Bloomberg’s Bold Vision to Spark Innovation and Entrepreneurship in NYC
The success of China’s Haidian District highlights the fact that countries around the world are investing in entrepreneurial ecosystems.
Selig Sacks is a Senior Partner at Pryor Cashman, LLP and Co-Chair of its China Practice. He is a graduate of Stanford Law School and is also very involved in promoting the arts in NYC and a passionate New York Rangers fan.
This past March, I had the opportunity to meet with the Dean of the Economics Department of Peking University and the Deans of the Schools of Management (Business Schools) of Peking and Tsinghua Universities. These are two of the great universities in China, each situated in the Haidian District of Beijing.
- 30% of all IPOs of Chinese companies come from the District.
- According to the Vice Mayor of Beijing, 280 private equity firms have located in the Haidian District and over 800 companies meet the listing requirements for ChiNext – Shenzhen Stock Exchange, which support small and medium sized enterprises.
- If you are a China-based public company in tech, media or telecom, chances are you are located there.
Startup companies founded by students from a great university plus a venture capital and private equity community at the ready to provide financial and human capital: sounds familiar, right?
In my meetings in the Haidian District there were repeated references to Stanford and Silicon Valley and how the great academic institutions located there can continue to learn from and emulate the relationship between the two.
Since graduating from Stanford Law School, I’ve had the opportunity to build a practice in NYC focused on private equity and representing China-based companies seeking access to U.S. capital markets by going public here. During that time, I’ve seen many Haidian District companies evolve from startups to significant tech players both in China and beyond.
The success of Haidian District highlights the fact that countries around the world are investing in entrepreneurial ecosystems. Mayor Bloomberg’s vision of creating an applied science graduate center for teaching and research in New York City is equally bold. Everything about the ambitions for the proposed campus – to spark innovation and entrepreneurship – is synonymous with Stanford’s values.
When I return to the Stanford Law School campus or attend Alumni Association events in New York, I am consistently overwhelmed by a sense of community and collaboration. And under Dean Larry Kramer’s leadership at the Law School, there are endless opportunities to take classes in other disciplines and benefit from the talents and intellectual curiosity of students with very different skill sets, technical and otherwise.
This sense of collaboration and entrepreneurship is part of Stanford’s DNA. It seems to me that we have a unique opportunity to blend that culture of scientific advancement, innovation, cooperation, and entrepreneurship with the strengths of New York City.
I’m excited about the potential to have an influx of new Stanford engineers and scientists who will infuse our community here in New York with the entrepreneurial “can do” attitude which epitomizes Stanford. GO Cardinal.
- Selig Sacks
Googler: NYC Needs Stanford and Stanford Needs NYC
Serge Kassardjian (picture above in NYC) works at Google as a Strategic Partner Development in Mobile Commerce.
New York City is in a unique situation right now. It’s changing.
Several industries are core to New York: media, financial services, advertising, fashion, sports and social driven business (i.e. restaurants, nightlife), to name a few. Technology is influencing all these industries and altering the way we think about and interact with them.
I moved to New York two and a half years ago when the technology industry here was still relatively small, but I could see the entrepreneurial spirit inherent to building high growth technology companies starting to gain momentum. NYC industries were ripe for disruption and improvement through technology.
Fast forward to 2011. Some of the most promising technology companies in fashion (Gilt groupe), financial services (Kickstarter), social (foursquare) and advertising (Buddy Media) are coming out of New York. Google bought a 2.9M square foot building in the old Port Authority building, which also happens to house several prominent start-ups and venture capital firms. Mayor Bloomberg has taken it upon his office to incentivize technology innovation in the city through multiple programs. The technology community in New York is growing quickly and I’m thankful and proud to be a part of it.
When I heard that Stanford is submitting a proposal for a new engineering and sciences campus on Roosevelt Island, I was thrilled. Stanford embodies the entrepreneurial energy that is responsible for creating Silicon Valley and its biggest companies. New York needs this energy and the potential of these incredible technology resources.
On the other hand, it’s important for Stanford to be a part of the innovation that is happening here in New York. Yesterday’s semiconductor, enterprise software and hardware businesses are tomorrow’s software businesses that will transform industries like media, finance and advertising. These companies cannot exist anywhere but New York. They need technology to realize their full potential.
It’s an important and mutually beneficial relationship that needs to happen now as the technology market evolves in fundamental ways that will impact the next ten to twenty years and beyond. The United States’ ability to influence these industries through technology innovation is even more critical in this era of globalization.
New York needs Stanford and Stanford needs New York. I implore all Stanford alums, students and friends who have any association with NYC to spread the word.
Ever since I was 18, I’ve been a proud member of the Stanford community. Its influence has profoundly affected me for two reasons: 1) exposure to amazing friends and mentors and their energy to think differently while trying to change the world 2) a vibrant startup community full of people passionate about business and engineering, two disciplines that are increasingly becoming blurred.
If Stanford is successful in its bid to establish roots in NYC, the Big Apple will experience both of these for itself, making the best city in the world that much better and well positioned for the opportunity that lies ahead.
-Serge Kassardjian, BS 2002, MS 2003, President Class of 2002, Stanford Alumni Association Board of Director Emeritus
New York City Continues Its History of Bold Initiatives
Sanjay Mody, Stanford Law School ’02, is a Former Senior Advisor to the Chairman of the Board of Commissioners, Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, 2007-2011.
On graduating from Stanford Law School almost a decade ago I was attracted to New York City by what has attracted countless others – its size and scale, its unmatched energy, its outsized personalities. Several years later, this abstract idea – the City’s bias for “thinking big” and the ambition of those who live and work here – became much more concrete when I joined the Port Authority, the public agency that owns and operates the airports, seaports, and other trade and transportation systems in the New York City region.
Through my work at the Port Authority I came to understand how much New York’s success is tied to its execution of bold projects – original and daring for their time – that transformed the City’s landscape and its economy: projects like its enormous subway system that handles more than five million riders every single day; the majestic bridges and deep tunnels that connect the boroughs of New York City to each other and to the rest of the country; the nation’s busiest airport system; the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.
The campaign to build a new applied sciences and engineering campus is the latest example of New York City’s bold thinking. What other city in the world would have the courage, even the audacity, to invite universities from around the globe to invest their time, energy and billions of dollars to build a ground-breaking campus entirely from scratch?
But this initiative is about much more than building physical structures. It’s about executing a vision: helping New York City expand beyond the industries that sustained our greatness for the last generation and become a global leader in engineering and technological innovation. In this sense, the City’s goal of attracting a new applied sciences campus is really about defining what New York will stand for in the twenty-first century.
On this measure New York City can find no better partner than Stanford. Its world-class engineering and computer science programs will attract some of the nation’s greatest young minds to the Big Apple. But what really distinguishes Stanford, even more than its superb faculty and academic programs, is something more genetic – its focus on the future, not a nostalgic reverence for the past.
If, like me, you’re originally from the East Coast, one of the most striking things about visiting the Farm for the first time is how untraditional it is for a university campus. Those with a fondness for ivy-covered Gothic buildings and musty libraries are sure to be disappointed. But for those interested in developing new ideas and shaping the future, Stanford is the most exciting place in the world. For there is simply no other place that compares to Stanford in celebrating innovation and the entrepreneurial spirit.
That Stanford is constantly pushing boundaries and looking towards the future makes sense given the circumstances that shaped its founding – for Leland Stanford’s point of reference at the end of the nineteenth century was the wide-open Western frontier, not the settled East. And since this culture of innovation is part of Stanford’s DNA, it isn’t something that others can easily replicate. This is why no other university – in the United States or anywhere else – has come close to matching Stanford’s success in inspiring the start-up culture of Silicon Valley.
In its quest for a new applied sciences campus, New York City is showing once again its tendency to think in bold, unconventional terms. Stanford is the ideal partner to help the City achieve its vision. Having inspired a universe of entrepreneurs and innovators on the West Coast over the last century, Stanford can now help New York become a new frontier of technological innovation in the years ahead.
- Sanjay Mody
Jerry Yang of Yahoo! on Stanford’s culture of collaboration and entrepreneurship.
“I wouldn’t go so far as saying that, necessarily, you’d bring Silicon Valley there. It may take a totally different form because when you have the best people, the best professors, the best research done in that location, magic happens. We may see something that we completely did not anticipate today, but I think that’s the beauty of Stanford.” - Jerry Yang, Yahoo!
Larry Page and Sergey Brin, Co-founders of Google, discuss Stanford’s tradition of innovation.
"I don’t think I’ve seen the same kind of scale in research and commercialization pretty much anywhere outside of Stanford…and I think this is a really great opportunity for both the city as well as Stanford University to broaden its horizons." - Sergey Brin, Co-founder Google