cafeBricolage -- The NYC Solution is a Hot-plate

February 08, 2007 Filed under: Business

This is in response to the now 70-message-long discussion about how to make NYC a great place for web start-ups.----------------

Dear nextNY, I think I have a solution. It's called, cafeBricolage.

In the debate about promoting technology entrepreneurs/enthusiasts/employees in NYC, the main issues have been the following:

- Resources - - Culture - - Centralization -

And first thing we do is compare ourselves to Silicon Valley: - We say they have more access to funding, cheap start-up-oriented lawyers, coffee shops and WIFI, etc. - We also say their culture helps drive creativity and risk-taking. Whether it be that bosses wearing shorts or that being in a start-up is better seen in the community, nextNYers feel like there's a cultural gap -- that NYC doesn't "get" something. - Lastly, we say that "they" have incubators, entire buildings with new start-ups, Google, more mixers, and just more cramming people together with web start-ups in mind, producing a great energy for creativity.

And then we talk about our experiences in NYC, and put "them" aside: - We say finding good labor is tough, because the banks are a brain-drain. We say lawyers are focuses on bigger things, media on skinnier things, and that all of our money -- and our money is an important thing -- goes to NYC rent. - We say that our NYC brethren aren't culturally prepared for a Silicon Alley 2.0, as they aspire to get rich with a Wall St. salary rather than the entrepreneur's jack-pot. We say coffee shops are anti-laptop and the city has yet to present a WIFI plan. Sadly, the most important tech conference here is WIRED Next Fest. - Finally, we feel spread out (peanut butter style). We're in SoHo lofts, DUMBO shell-spaces, LES apartments, and lower Broadway shoe-boxes, but there are no cafes where who's who of NYC tech hang-out partially because we're all hanging out in different places. In fact, nextNY exists because the only way we can organize and centralize is on the web.

Connecting the dots -- What to do The thing about these three things -- resources, culture, and centralization -- is that they're 100% connected. A "solution" to the "NY Problem" will have to holistically address these three issues.

This brings me to Bricolage. Most anthropology, sociology or art students end up learning about the concept (French people know the word, but not necessarily is socially scientific meaning), but here's a boiled down version: Bricolage is the art of making great solutions with limited, non-orthodox resources.

And that's us -- not just as entrepreneurs (most entrepreneurs would be considered "bricoleurs") but as NYC-based entrepreneurs. nextNY was the product of the act of bricolage, whereas communing on a Google Group may not have been the most orthodox solution, it's turned into a great solution because it used resources available in a compelling way.

Illustration: Hip-hop culture is the product of NYC specific bricolage. Spray-painting art, break-dancing on cardboard, block-parties enriched with music coming from boom-boxed spliced into street-light power, deejays playing with scratched up, discarded records.

So what does bricolage have to do with the NYC Solution? Ask yourself this: What would happen if there was a central place in the city that embraced the scrappy, ingenious art of bricolage, combined and shared resources, and embodied and produced the culture we thirst for?

cafeBricolage would be the NYC incubator for start-ups, but it would be done in a way that NYC needs. Throw out your old concepts of an incubator, and think about this: a collective space, one part cafe and one part office, which could support up to a dozen small resident companies of various smallness, and work-space, geared toward the laptop carrying professional, embedded in a community cafe operated by the members themselves. Since we're all tech people here, I say in in a way we can all understand: "It's 'co-working' meets 'cooperative cafe' meets NYSIA meets 'Digg'" (just kidding about the "Digg" part, it's just something you have to say in a sentence like that).

By centralizing ourselves -- as with anything else -- we can create massive efficiencies, addressing issues of resources, such as cost of rent, utilities, and labor. By incorporating a community cafe we open to a broader community, and an open culture is created around the incubator, making cafeBricolage more like a hot-plate than an closed incubator.

OPERATIONS: You thought I forgot about logistics ("that's one dreamy manifesto, but it can't work!"). I didn't (I've been tinkering with this concept for nearly a year). This would be a non-profit, overseen by a board and very small administrative staff. However, the structure I've put forward doesn't lose money, and by using a cooperative model remains very self-sufficient. Member companies pay for their space and take care of the space, visiting professionals pay modest fees for usage, income from the cafe goes back into the organization's coffers.

But let's not lie: start-up money would be needed and backers would have to take risks. A building would need to be bought or a massive space rented. But who would back such a thing? Who do you think backs those Universities on the West Coast where VCs mull around in the halls, looking for deals? Benefactors. And smart-ones at that. In a city with David Roses, Fred Wilsons, Brad Burnhams, Google HQ2, and other tech greats (just check out NYSIA's sponsor page), any number of organizations or individuals would be interested in backing such a plan, and getting this self-sustaining model on its feet. I want to reiterate, though, because this is centered around bricolage and embracing our limited resources (not around lying to ourselves that the smartest thing to do while starting-up is buying aeron chairs) we'd be able to keep many costs low.

For me it's simply this: there are many issues that face NYC tech start-ups, but they can't be dealt with on an individual level. We need an NYC solution that embraces who we are and the specific issues we face. The solution must be holistic. I think the cafeBricolage model does this.

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