The western Queens neighborhood received a lot of attention last week for its burgeoning culture of small tech start-up companies, which are attracted to the neighborhood’s accessibility and cheap space.
On Wednesday evening, the Coalition for Queens, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fostering the tech community in Queens, hosted its fourth Tech Meetup event at the headquarters of See.Me at 25-25 44th Drive in Long Island City.
Well over 100 tech-minded Queens residents turned out for the laid-back event, which featured guest speakers Dan Huttenlocher and Greg Pass of CornellNYC, the new technology campus that is planned for Roosevelt Island.
There were also presentations by three Queens-based tech startup companies, including Hubbl, Skift, and host See.Me.
“The best way we can spread the word and network with local tech companies is through events exactly like this,” said Huttenlocher.
Jukay Hsu, a founding member of the coalition, is looking to expand the meet-ups.
“We would like to do one every month,” he said.
The following afternoon, members of the Coalition for Queens took a tour of several start-up companies in Long Island City with Assemblywoman Grace Meng and Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez.
Their first stop was Songza on 46th Avenue. Songza is a website that offers people curated music playlists designed to fit a specific mood or activity. The company, founded by three graduates of Brown University, moved to Long Island City six months ago.
“This spot was centrally located, and it was so much more affordable than Manhattan,” said Songza co-founder Peter Asbill.
Leaving Songza, the tour returned to the previous night’s meet-up host, See.Me. See.Me offers artists the opportunity to upload their work to a website, providing them with exposure.
If their work is intriguing enough, it could become part of an actual art show at See.Me’s exhibition space or elsewhere throughout the city and world.
See.Me’s current space was given to them for free for one year by Rockrose Development to create some energy in the neighborhood, but See.Me CEO William Etundi, Jr. says See.Me plans to stay in Long Island City when the one-year lease expires.
“We love it here,” he said. “There’s a real sense of community, and the price-per-square-foot is about one-third of what it is in Manhattan.”
Hsu said that a lot of these new, small start-up tech companies have a hard time finding good technology talent. Etundi agreed.
“It’s really hard when you are competing for talent with Facebook and Google,” he said, but hopes the new Cornell tech campus will broaden the talent pool. “We think it’s going to dramatically change the city.”
Meng said she was interested in touring the businesses to listen to their needs and challenges in the hopes of expanding the tech industry throughout the borough.
“With the coming university on Roosevelt Island and unique and promising start-ups like the ones we’re visiting, with the right governmental support Queens can become the technological hub of the East Coast and be the engine for middle-class job creation in the city,” she said.
Velazquez said she has seen the benefits that a strong culture of tech entrepreneurship can bring to a neighborhood.
“As the representative of North Brooklyn just across the bridge, I have witnessed firsthand the powerful job creating potential of high growth firms like these,” she said. “All of us must work together in fostering an environment that helps these start-ups flourish and grow.”
The tour ran long, and the representatives failed to make it to the last stop, Shapeways, a 3-D printing company in Long Island City. It was probably for the better, however, as Shapeways already had its work day interrupted earlier that morning with a visit from Mayor Michael Bloomberg.
Not only was he celebrating the company’s move to a new Long island City warehouse that will allow the company to expand its operations, but the mayor also announced a contest to promote 3-D printing and innovation in New York City.
The competition will act as a business accelerator for New York City-based entrepreneurs, inventors and makers, who will be judged by a panel of experts as well as the public.
They will receive assistance on the path to commercialization, including studio space, business support and mentorship from industry experts
"This contest will make sure New York City stays on the cutting edge of 3-D printing, an exciting new industry with virtually unlimited potential, and which could completely revolutionize manufacturing," said Bloomberg.