Four entrepreneurs think New York is on the way to becoming the next Silicon Valley. Are they right? 

New York is notoriously unfriendly to start-ups, and during a recent mayoral forum the candidates said as much. But launching a company here has gotten easier, explained members of a Made in New York panel that met during Internet Week on Wednesday. The panel included Artsy founder Carter Cleveland, LearnVest CEO Alexa von Tobel, ZocDoc COO Oliver Kharraz, and Seamless' Jonathan Zabusky. 

"The elephant in the room is obviously, 'Why didn't we go to the Silicon Valley and San Francisco,' right? But I think there are some distinct advantages that New York can offer," said Kharraz. "Since we started in 2007, this question gets asked less and less. Everyone gets, 'Why you would start your start-up in New York?'" 

ZocDoc needed engineers when it launched, but it was ultimately a people business, he added. The company decided to go where the users were--and where one in every six doctors trains. LearnVest's von Tobel agreed there was no other city for her but New York. Her start-up aims to disrupt financial planning and New York is the finance capital of the world. 

High Stakes, Higher Rents 

"It's very costly here," Seamless' Zabusky admitted. Since its launch, he's moved parts of the start-up to different cities in an effort to clamp down on costs. 

Kharraz agreed "the real estate has always been a problem." ZocDoc launched in an apartment in Harlem and continued to operate there until the ceiling literally caved in on the founding team. Finding a space that is start-up friendly--and won't be outgrown within a matter of months--is definitely a challenge. 

Beyond the lack of viable real estate, von Tobel noticed a lack of "entrepreneurship structure" when LearnVest launched three years ago. Fortunately that's changing and in recent years she's seen an entrepreneurial ecosystem take form, connecting angels to ideas. 

Gaining Momentum 

With Internet giants like Google and Facebook opening offices in New York, New York no longer seems uncool on the West Coast, said Zabusky.

That shift in perception is powerful from a recruiting perspective, noted Cleveland. East Coast engineers won't have to move to find jobs, and great talent might decide to move there. 

Noting current Mayor Michael Bloomberg has less than a year left as mayor, von Tobel urged his successor to make "sure that no one slows down that momentum, that the policies in place outlive" his tenure. 

"I think we are on a great path, but it will take time," added Kharraz. 

Published on: May 22, 2013