New York City is trying to burnish its standing in the  startup arena by doing what it has long done best: Opening its doors to the world's best and brightest.

At the Korean Startup Summit on Wednesday, prominent representatives from the city's government discussed initiatives aimed at attracting international talent and helping promising startups take root in the U.S. The event, held at Microsoft's Times Square Tech Center, also drew nearly two dozen Korean- and Korean-American-led startups (all based in Seoul or New York) for a pitch competition and networking with investors.

In her address, executive vice president of the NYC Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) Kathleen Warner said that nearly 300,000 people work in the city's $125 billion tech ecosystem. The abundance of entrepreneurs makes the Big Apple an ideal location for collaborative efforts with leading minds in other fields--giving rise to an industry Warner called "hyphen tech." 

To grow this new industry, NYCEDC launched the IN2NYC program, which qualifies international entrepreneurs for cap-exempt H-1B visas that allow them to work in the U.S., and provides them access to City University of New York (CUNY) facilities for their fledgling businesses. Warner's agency hopes the program will spur even greater long-term entrepreneurial growth by turning New York's public universities into startup hubs, since the program's participants will be required to develop entrepreneurial and tech education programs for CUNY students.

Despite these types of initiatives, there's been valid criticism from those who point to the occasionally faltering record of New York's startups, especially when it comes to IPOs. As Fred Wilson, co-founder of New York City's Union Square Ventures told the The New York Times earlier this month: "Big exits really haven't happened yet in New York."

For now, Warner and many others are trying to draw international businesses to the city. NYCEDC recently worked with pharmaceutical and biotech companies to raise $150 million ($10 million of which came from the agency) for early-stage funding of life-sciences startups. The investment could give a shot in the arm to what some have called New York's most investment-starved field of innovation.

Many are betting specifically on Korea to be the originator of the next big biotech invention. Of the 21 startups who faced off in the summit's pitch competition, one-third were biotech or health-related businesses, a potential signal of which field might benefit the most from growing New York's community of international innovators.

"In terms of what we have in the U.S., [technology in Korea] is five, maybe ten years ahead," said Grace Kim, vice president of the nonprofit  Korean Startups & Entrepreneurs.

A Seoul to New York tech pipeline? It could be coming someday soon.

  

Published on: Jun 16, 2016