Accelerate NY / by Nate Westheimer

If you look at the pace of tech-related announcements and new programs coming out of City Hall, you know how desperate our City leadership is to introduce game-changing ideas to the startup and high-tech industry. The problem, however, is that to-date most of these programs have widely missed the mark, in my opinion. In a City where virtually every building has a glut of un-used office space, why would we need more cheap space? In a City where tens of millions of dollars are invested by local VCs in local startups, why would we need a few million dollars extra?

Adult education programs are interesting, but without the explicit goal of taking adults and making adult companies today, our educational resources are much better spent teaching young folks the skills necessary to engineer the next great thing in New York. Just teaching adults how to understand the startup and tech world is not even close to transformational.

Over the past few years, I've come to believe that there are very things we can do on a City-wide level which would actually be transformational. One of the most creative ideas I heard came from Stu Ellman, during a meeting we had with EDC leaders: His idea was to force big companies who deal with the government, as well as the government itself, to buy software, when available, from area startups. If you're going to invest $2million, he pondered, why not use it as insurance against those startups failing, while making sure they have access to the big contracts which will help them succeed?

While politically unfeasible, Stu was thinking at the level needed to create big change here. Another idea, which is more feasible, though potentially less game-changing, is to start a significant accelerator/seed program in New York.

Yesterday, Jed Christiansen had a wonderful post outlining the successes and failures of accelerator/incubator programs like Y-Combinator, TechStars, LaunchBox Digital, and DreamIT.

This sort of data analysis is something I've wanted to do for sometime, with the goal of finding an appropriate model for New York City.

As Jed says,

  • The first rule of copying Y Combinator is: Do Not copy Y Combinator.
  • The second rule of copying Y Combinator is: DO NOT COPY Y COMBINATOR.

This leaves the question: What's right for New York City? What sort of program would accelerate the pace of startups here? How could an accelerator be transformational, instead of just additive?

To answer this question, we must dive into what makes New York special. We must identify those unique characteristics of New York City which either aren't supported by the current early-stage infrastructure, or where there's too much friction.

I think part of this answer lies in the unlocked potential of the brilliant young minds we have in the big established industries here. These people are artificially restrained from creating big, disruptive businesses, because the size of NYC's Titan Industries gives them the resources to compensate some of the smartest among us to keep those Titan Industries whole, versus finding new ones.

Building a program which effectively identifies the best and brightest locked away in these industries, and providing the resources to turn their disruptive ideas into disruptive startups, is a big answer for me. As I explore the founding of a New York accelerator program, either as a part of NY Tech Meetup or outside of it, this will be a central theme.

But what are more transformational themes to pursue? Your ideas here are much appreciated.