The event might have been called Start-up City, but the six New York mayoral candidates who attended used it as a platform to characterize New York City as a place that's sorely lacking the resources start-ups need.
On Friday, Manhattan borough president Scott Stringer hosted the half-day event, which included panels on the state of entrepreneurship in the city as well as an open forum with the candidates, at New York Law School.
The theme of the forum could have been summed up like so: Despite Mayor Michael Bloomberg's efforts to attract entrepreneurs and key players in the tech industry to New York, he hasn't done enough. The candidates pointed to infrastructure issues such as lack of affordable and widespread high-speed Internet, as well as a dearth of qualified talent and affordable office space.
"We have lot of young people coming into the city now and start-ups, and I think it's political malpractice not to expand broadband [connection] throughout the city of New York," former City Councilmember Sal Alabanese said. "If [we] want to remain a world-class city, we have to do it."
But according to Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, the issue of Internet connection is not that simple. The city is dealing with an "affordability crisis" when it comes to access--it's the most expensive venue in the world, de Blasio said, noting that almost half of New Yorkers cannot afford a high-speed connection.
The blame seemed to land on the doorsteps of both Verizon and Mayor Bloomberg, who the candidates suggested had not held Verizon accountable for its promise to wire all of New York City with FiOS by the summer of 2014. De Blasio said Verizon is only half-way through with the project (Verizon disputes the claim).
If big franchise companies such as Verizon cannot provide the city with the appropriate broadband connection, said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, the city might have to take the project upon itself.
"We have to give ourselves [till] really no later than, let's say, 2018 to be at the place where we are really competitive again," she said, when asked for a potential deadline for getting the city connected at median speed and at cost.
In terms of solving the problems of attracting more qualified talent and making office space more affordable, the candidates criticized the status quo but did not offer much in the way of concrete solutions.
"You can launch, you can capitalize early but when you get to the talent needs of sustaining a tech company, an IT company, or if you want to go to scale, it's very difficult to do it here in New York City," said former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrion. "One, because we don't have the physical infrastructure and two, because we don't have the length of history in this space and we haven't been a user-friendly city."
Efforts made by Bloomberg to promote the city as a technology and start-up hub during his tenure went largely unmentioned during the forum. These efforts include the Neighborhood Achievement Award that celebrates entrepreneurial talent; the administration's attempt to involve technology organizations in helping revamp the city's pay-phone system; the Made in NYC campaign, which attempts to attract start-ups such as Yext to settle in Manhattan; the creation of New York Technology council; and the upcoming NYU Technology campus.
But the six candidates did float a few suggestions--albeit short on the details--for how to make New York more start-up friendly:
- Increase emphasis on STEM education in public schools
- Ensure that NYC schools attract qualified math and science teachers
- Offer students access to technology by providing them with computers, laptops, or tablets (all candidates agreed that they would lift the current ban on cell phones in public schools)
- Appoint a deputy mayor for technology
- Continue and expand network of incubators
- Include start-ups early on in local regulation conversations