By Phyllis Huang

July 23, 2017, 3:17 pm

 
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Photo: Whickers World Foundation

People talk about Brooklyn as a tech hub as if it is something new, but the area has always been a space for cutting-edge technology since the Civil War era

If author E. B. White were to rewrite his beloved 1949 classic essay, Here is New York in which he describes the city definitively as a hub for art, commerce, sport, religion, entertainment and finance, surely today, he’d be compelled to add one more thing: technology.

The strip of Brooklyn along the East River tucked under the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges (also known as DUMBO) where Sergio Leone shot his timeless classic Once Upon a Time in America, and also the Brooklyn Navy Yard and Downtown Brooklyn together comprise the City’s largest cluster of tech activity outside of Manhattan.

Brooklyn Tech Triangle, emerging tech industry, technology in Brooklyn

Brooklyn Tech Triangle map. Source: http://brooklyntechtriangle.com

The cluster is referred to as the Brooklyn Tech Triangle where, already, more than 1,350 tech companies have established roots in the space. BTT has employed over 17,300 people in the process.

The vibrant tech ecosystem has brought in global tech leaders such as United Technologies Corporation (UTC), which announced in March 2017 the newly renovated Empire Stores at 55 Water Street in DUMBO as the new base for its digital accelerator and incubator programs that aim to nurture tech startups at different stages of their development.

55 Water Street, UTC Digital Accelerator’s future home in Dumbo. Source: http://www.empirestoresdumbo.com

Downtown Brooklyn Partnership — a non-profit local development corporation– hosts the “Make It in Brooklyn” pitch contest. As of now, the organization has hosted six contests, each with a distinct theme. Several of the winners have gone on to make lucrative exits or receive additional fundings.

New Lab, located in Brooklyn Navy Yard, opened its doors in 2016. It is a collaborative working space for emerging technologies in robotics, artificial intelligence and urban farming with an emphasis on hardware development.

One more facility with similar concept is on the way: Tishman Speyer bought Macy’s Downtown Brooklyn store in 2015 with the goal of converting the property into a creative hub.

New Lab interior. Source: Vanity Fair.

Andrew Hoan, President and CEO of Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce thinks BTT’s proximity to MetroTech Center– the nation’s largest urban academic-industrial research park– promises the abundance of talent needed, and is a big reason behind BTT’s emergence as a tech center.

Another contributing factor is “The high quality of life in Downtown Brooklyn” that attracts people, said Regina Myer, president of Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. Aside from being a bustling urban area itself, three comely neighborhoods near the Downtown business district– Boerum Hill, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, affectionally known as BoCoCa– offer people historic, old-world architectures and abundant options for socializing. 

Yet, the booming of the tech industry in Brooklyn is not limited to BTT alone:

“We are certainly very happy about Brooklyn Tech Triangle, but we prefer the term ‘innovative coast,’” said Hoan.

In the past five years alone, neighborhoods alongside the East River such as Greenpoint, Williamsburg and Gowanus are now to some now prominent technology companies centered around technology innovation in food and agriculture.

Gotham Greens set up its flagship hydroponic farm, the first commercial scale greenhouse facility of its kind in the country in Greenpoint in 2011. Edenworks, an aquaponic farming venture, whose two founders were selected as 2017 30 under 30 by Forbes, built its facility in Williamsburg in 2013. And a handful of new food startups are flocking to the old Pfizer factory building that lies on the border of South Williamsburg and Bed-Stuy.

A tea company based in old Pfizer building. Source: New York Times.

With a little digging, we can see that the young and daring tech pioneers have been forming a colorful techscape in Brooklyn all along. As Hoan also pointed out, “Now people talk about Brooklyn as a tech hub as if it is something new. But the area has always been a space for cutting-edge technology since the Civil War era: People were making ironclad ships in Brooklyn Navy Yard!”

Given the innovative spirit that is historically present in Brooklyn, the borough’s emergence as tech hub in the new millennium is more of an historic echo than a novelty. The Brooklyn Bridge is the most suitable allegory.

With tech companies presenting such wide array of interests and focuses, undoubtedly, there is much much more to come around the bend.

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This is the first in a three-part series examining Brooklyn’s fast-emerging technology 

Click here to read the second in this series: AgTech X- an Urban Agricultural Co-Lab in Brooklyn


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