When a slate of outspoken thinkers get together in New York, there may be talk of time machines, clothing that dissolves, and ways to bring the technology revolution to underserved communities.
Those were some of the themes brought up last weekend at TEDxFultonStreet, a local, independent event, licensed by the TED Conferences, which brings together speakers on technology, entertainment, and design.
The slideshow above offers a glimpse of some of the presenters, who included Brian Cohen, chair of the New York Angels, and Emme, whose efforts inspired change in the modeling and fashion industries.
Throughout the daylong event last Sunday, there were calls to action on a variety of fronts, including the innovation scene. Majora Carter, CEO of StartUp Box in the South Bronx, for example, added her voice to a growing outcry to make technology part of social and economic change in lower-income communities. The idea is to not only educate youths in science and other fields to help them get ahead, she said, but to bring new opportunities to their neighborhoods.
“When you’re a smart kid in a poor community, you’re taught to measure success by how far you get away from those communities,” Carter said. She wants to uplift the self-esteem of residents by bringing mixed income housing and mixed-use commercial development to the South Bronx. That will be coupled with StartUp Box bringing opportunities for residents to pursue tech jobs in such areas as quality assurance, as well as tapping some of the entrepreneurial spirit seen elsewhere in New York.
The weaving of tech innovation with economic development has been discussed numerous times, by Mayor Bill de Blasio and other proponents of social and economic change. Expanding high-speed Internet access to lower-income communities has been one of de Blasio’s missions, but Carter believes bringing down the so-called digital divide needs to go further. “The real digital divide is between who’s a consumer and who’s a producer,” she said.
For example, someone in a lower-income community might eagerly use technology, such as apps and smartphones, but might not have the chance to learn how to create technology. Changing that dynamic will mean improving educational opportunities and, Carter said, getting people in those communities to understand how poor they are—so they are driven to no longer accept the status quo.
Technology may be thriving—and it’s a way to bolster the economy—but there is also concern about frothy segments of the startup scene. The New York Angels’ chair Cohen doled out more of his tough love about startups and the money that goes into them. He quickly put down notions of angel investors backing startups to be nice; he is in the business of exits.
“It is about making money,” Cohen said. “It’s so important for it to rain.” Basically, angel investors need to see substantial returns from some of their investments in order to have the resources to fund others. Moreover, he said, they need to invest in smart, scalable new businesses and not just ideas that founders are passionate about.
He also had some cautionary words about the current investing scene. “Too many angel investors are losing money,” Cohen said.
And that’s money that he believes could be steered to more worthwhile companies—if angel investors got tougher on due diligence when approached by startups and, frankly, said no more often. “Not every idea is a good idea,” he said, “and not every good idea is a scalable business you can fund.”
If startups are to become scalable businesses, they will likely need a proverbial tech rock star or three on the team. Rishon Blumberg, manager and co-founder of 10x Management talent agency, spoke about helping independent technologists with highly in-demand skills land their next gig.
He has represented musicians, filmmakers, and other entertainers, such as John Mayer and Vanessa Carlton. Blumberg’s team has been offering similar services to what he called high-end tech freelancers.
The freelance gig economy, he said, is changing the way people work and bending the world to its whims. The need for technologists is increasing as more companies adopt more tech-driven strategies, he said. “Dominos considers itself an e-commerce company because 50 percent of all of its orders come in via its website or mobile app.”
He expects the demand, and competition to hire such professionals, to increase rapidly in the years ahead. With some 60 million baby boomers due to leave the workforce by 2025, he said, only 40 million millennials will be there to replace them. Further, Blumberg said highly skilled millennials are also likely to create their own companies, thinning out the field of potential hires even more. “There are not enough of them to go around,” he said. “We have entered the age of the freelancer.”
Despite this rising trend, he said many companies are structured around fulltime, in-house positions and are not ready to capture freelancers in the market. Some … Next Page »