New York Got Smarter, Dressed Sharper, and Faced Off with Failure in 2012

Adolescence can be a tough and fascinating period of discovery—even for New York’s innovation community.

At the onset of 2012, education technology startups in the city trumpeted their platforms for sharing knowledge via the cloud and social networks. Other technology sectors, e-commerce especially, saw rapid evolution as once-hot daily deals faded further from the spotlight. These were just some of the diverse technology trends seen in New York this year, and offer some sense of how this community might continue to grow.

Disruption in education was an early theme this year, with local startups such as Knewton, Examville, and Lore (formerly Coursekit) offering digital platforms to make content more accessible and shareable among students and teachers. Class scheduling, notes, and electronic textbooks increasingly appeared via the cloud and social networks thanks to these companies and their peers.

Another local education startup, Schoology, reached out to educators, offering its app and Web-based platform for administering quizzes and grades through mobile devices and desktop computers.

Chalkable, a graduate of the 500 Startups accelerator program, created a platform for discovering, buying, and installing education apps that can be used across school districts.

MeeGenius fought for its slice of the crowded e-reader app segment by focusing on helping young readers understand words.

Though it may seem like bookworms took over the city, fashionistas and shopaholics were far from forgotten by New York startups. Fashion-themed sites are naturally plentiful here. E-commerce site Nomorerack and apparel rental site Rent the Runway both closed on new funding in December.

In this post-daily deals era, some e-commerce companies focused on helping consumers discover hard-to-find products they may want. Svpply, acquired by eBay in September for undisclosed terms, curates stylish items from apparel to gadgets daily.

Bookmarking and tagging online items for later purchase also became a prevalent theme among local e-commerce startups. Have to Have, backed by angel investor Joanne Wilson, is an online registry for bookmarking items consumers want to buy later. Hukkster, a web-based bookmarklet service for monitoring prices for online goods, launched in the fall and then quickly attracted the backing of the Winklevoss twins.

A high profile member of the New York e-commerce scene continues to grow by constantly evolving.—which pivoted from a social network to flash sales—changed again in 2012 becoming a retailer of everyday, well-designed items. The company pulled in more than $105 million in funding this year, including a “seven-figure” deal to make a push into India. In a blog post, CEO Jason Goldberg hints at yet another pivot in the works for some time in 2013, but has yet to reveal details.

Naturally, there were shakeups in New York’s innovation scene. High-profile e-commerce company Gilt Groupe began the year with layoffs, the closure of some of its offices, and the departure of two executives. In early December, the company looked to bring in new leadership and hired Michelle Peluso from Citigroup as its new CEO. Gilt founder Kevin Ryan will remain chairman.

While Gilt works through its growing pains, some companies threw in the towel. Solvate, a platform for finding freelance talent, shut down in March. Workspace marketplace Loosecubes in Brooklyn, which let its members share empty desks in offices as needed, closed up shop in November, even though it raised $7.8 million in a Series A round in June.

DealDown, another Brooklynite, made a very late entry in the daily deals market, then folded hastily. As of this writing, DealDown’s site is gone with no further word from its co-founder.

Failure is not necessarily a terrible thing for the city’s innovation scene. It can be healthy as long as entrepreneurs move forward in new directions. At the Ignite NYC event in September, Philip Kiracofe, entrepreneur and co-founder of the Failure Club, joined other speakers in talking about not only what went wrong with some of their ideas, but what they jumped on next. Perhaps a lesson New York innovators can learn from 2012 is they must continue reinventing and reimagining, even when their ideas gain a little traction.

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