Can New York’s Silicon Alley Rival California’s Silicon Valley?


New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg has been bullish on having his city rival Silicon Valley as a hub of high-tech innovation. As the Associated Press just noted, Google, Facebook, Twitter, Microsoft, eBay, Yelp, LinkedIn, Foursquare, Tumblr, Kickstarter and Gilt Groupe have set up shop in the Big Apple. Between 2005 and 2010, the city’s tech workforce grew 10 times faster than city employment according to the Center for an Urban Future.

The city’s Economic Development Corp. set-up a $22.5 million startup investment fund and most recently offered 12 acres of land on Roosevelt Island and $100 million in improvements for a state-of-the-art graduate school, CornellNYC Tech, to be run by Cornell University and Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, which is slated to open in January. Acting U.S. Commerce Secretary Rebecca Blank will serve as on-campus patent officer. But it hasn’t been an easy road.[more]

Critics and supporters cite spotty broadband access and an insufficient tech talent base as hurdles to be overcome (a goal for CornellNYC), and in response, the city just announced a contest for SMB’s to get wired gratis and plans to rank NYC buildings wireless capacity. “People that say, ‘Oh, we have no chance of being bigger in technology than Silicon Valley’ — that’s not true,” said the mayor. “Once you get the critical mass here, I’ve always thought that New York’s value proposition is a better one.”[more]

To that end, Hizzoner welcomed the arrival of Shapeways to the city’s Silicon Alley with a competition to promote 3-D printing and innovative manufacturing:

The Dutch start-up, delivering rapid-prototyping to the masses, raised $5 million in funding led by Index Ventures and Fred Wilson’s Union Square Ventures, with aspirations to expand its market position in the U.S.

The startup’s goal, to “enable people to make whatever they can buy,” says product manager Nancy Liang. Shapeways is leading what The Economist calls ‘the third industrial revolution’ — “The digitisation of manufacturing [that] will transform the way goods are made—and change the politics of jobs too.” 

The first one, in Britain in the late 18th century, was the mechanization of the textile industry when weavers’ cottages were consolidated into cotton mill factories; followed by the second one in the early 20th century, when Henry Ford introduced mass production via the moving assembly line.

“Manufacturing is going digital,” continues The Economist. “A number of remarkable technologies are converging: clever software, novel materials, more dexterous robots, new processes (notably three-dimensional printing) and a whole range of web-based services…The factory of the future will focus on mass customisation—and may look more like those weavers’ cottages than Ford’s assembly line.”

Iterating hubs of urban innovation, NYC is combining the ‘politics of jobs’ and broad-based innovation into a Silicon Alley with a distinctive east coast flavor.