Lowering the Barriers to Tech: Why Digital.NYC Isn’t Just a Mere Website to Scoff At

October 2, 2014

3:00 pm

At a press event yesterday in DUMBO, Brooklyn, New York City mayor, Bill de Blasio, unveiled Digital.NYCa one-stop digital platform where people can learn anything and everything about the NYC tech scene. But starting just minutes after the end of the event, I already heard and read negative comments ridiculing the public-private initiative. While some of this criticism is valid (e.g., why did it take two years to create this?), others simply are without merit and contribute nothing (e.g., this isn’t going to help anyone). Let’s get this straight: the availability of a resource like Digital.NYC – while seemingly minute when placed alongside all other tech-related initiatives that can be pursued through public-private partnerships – can contribute to lowering the barriers to entry in the tech industry and increasing accessibility to those that fall outside the category of largely-Millenial-middle-class-white-male.

“We’ve said from the beginning [that] we intend to help this sector become truly the five-borough sector,” said Mayor de Blasio. “This sector is creating jobs…good paying jobs – quality jobs – the kind we need more of in New York City, and doing it in all five boroughs.”

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Digital.NYC unveiling at yesterday’s press event in DUMBO Heights (via Ronald Barba/Tech Cocktail).

Meant to serve as a comprehensive guide to navigating NYC’s tech and entrepreneurship communities, the Digital.NYC website offers information on nearly 6,000 NYC-based startups (featuring full profiles created by startups themselves and sourced from databases), more than 150 investors/investment funds (including various startup competitions), an interactive calendar listing all the events going on (both on the local NYC level and greater industry level), and pages and links to essentially any other thing you can think of – from finding info on coworking spaces to discovering who’s hiring and reading trending news in the NYC tech ecosystem. The site was made possible through a public-private partnership made up of the City and more than a dozen tech and civic organizations – the site itself is a product of NYC-based startup Gust and runs on IBM‘s new Cloud-based development platform Bluemix (IBM also provided the funding to make the site happen). According to Mayor de Blasio, thanks to Digital.NYC, the City now has a tool that will allow people to come together to further strengthen the NYC tech community. Referring to it as “the ultimate tech match-maker”, Digital.NYC enables companies to connect with investors, investors with startups, and startups with talented people in the community.

“[In] my journey in the past couple of years, talking to people who are either part of the tech community or wanted to be a part of the tech community, one of the things I constantly heard was that there was a bit of an intimidation factor about New York City: [it’s] big and complicated, especially if you were coming from outside,” said de Blasio.

There is high value for Digital.NYC when you consider even just the mere possibilities of what the site can offer versus what it actually offers to people in practice (since, you know, it literally just launched yesterday, and whether it will actually connect investors to startups or match positions with job-seekers stands wholly on theory). On its basic principle, my argument is akin to that of Obamacare advocates: that it’s better to have easy access to something with potential value to you that can be turned into actual value, than to be completely devoid of it and entirely cut off from any kind of value whatsoever. And as much as Obamacare reduced the socioeconomic barriers to healthcare, Digital.NYC aims to do the same with ingressions to the tech industry.

“We want it to benefit all walks of life from everywhere – in all neighborhoods. And that means also having a portal where community-based organizations can play a key role in connecting with the community: connecting with investors, connecting with folks looking for a job to where the jobs are and where the training is.”

These sentiments were certainly expressed by the various speakers at yesterday’s press briefing, with comments from Mayor de Blasio himself focusing on really providing equal accessibility to all five boroughs of NYC. “We spend everyday strengthening the engines of the New York City economy globally, while really working to connect all New Yorkers to economic opportunity.” said president of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) Kyle Kimball. Digital.NYC provides a resource for those in the City who currently don’t have the connections or don’t have access to the same opportunities that permit them to compete on an equal footing with others in this startup economy. Founder of Startup Box South Bronx, Majora Carter, put the situation in the best words when talking about the influence that this initiative will have on helping their organization to stimulate more discussions and generate more connections to increase accessibility to tech:

“Our team members would sooner be considered candidates for Stop-and-Frisk rather than assume to be part of the New York City tech worker economy. When most people think of technology in low-income communities in New York City – like the South Bronx – they think of teaching kids to code. And there is great enthusiasm around that…but what about when they’re not so cute kids anymore? What about the cute, young adults in our communities? The ones that have creativity and talent and drive, but didn’t necessarily have access to networks and resources that those guys in the garage might have had? They need experience, and they need jobs right now.”

Following in this messaging, Brooklyn Borough president Eric Adams said:

“By having a website of this magnitude, it allows us to come together as a family of one city to share our resources and ideas. But it does something else. Countless number of young people don’t make their way to Wall Street; they can’t find their way downtown to DUMBO or other [tech] hubs. By using technology to allow them to explore – to become modern-day Christopher Columbus[es]  – they don’t stay in the geographical boundaries of their block – they go beyond that…this is the passport of the future for those young people.”

While, yes, the City could have worked on expediting other initiatives (ahem, what happened to using those old payphones as WiFi Hotspots?) or maybe it could have tried harder to get this website out sooner, having such expectations puts you outside the common understanding of bureaucratic operations (even with the partnership of private entities): things take a while.  Digital.NYC is a great resource and it’s an imperative factor in creating opportunities across a wider socioeconomic spectrum.

Check out Digital.NYC now. In the near future, the site will have a Spanish version.

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Ronald Barba was the previous managing editor of Tech.Co. His primary story interests include industry trends, consumer-facing apps/products, the startup lifestyle, business ethics, diversity in tech, and what-is-this-bullsh*t things. Aside from writing about startups and entrepreneurship, Ronald is interested in 'Doctor Who', Murakami, 'The Mindy Project', and fried chicken. He is currently based in New York because he mistakenly studied philosophy in college and is now a "writer". Tweet @RonaldPBarba.

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