Big changes are afoot right now in Brooklyn.
Call it gentrification, or call it community development. Either way, a shifting demographic, rising housing costs, and a bevy of new business are reshaping the borough.
Yet, there’s still one other borough development that, although not as loudly discussed in quite so many circles, is equally as pervasive and potent: And that is Brooklyn’s fast-emerging tech scene.
Consider that between 2009 and 2018, the number of tech start-ups in Brooklyn grew by 356 percent, topping the growth rate for Manhattan and second only to San Francisco, according to a recent report by the Center for an Urban Future. In fact, Brooklyn now has 9.2 percent of the city’s tech start-ups, up from 6.3 percent in 2000, its highest share ever.
These tech companies know that the talent and skill of a lot of these folks is in Brooklyn
This decade-long trend in Brooklyn is significant, said Jonathan Bowles, executive director at the Center for an Urban Future, because of the long-term social and economic impact: “The innovation economy is producing a significant share of the new high-wage jobs both in Brooklyn and in New York, and I see that as such a tremendous opportunity.”
ConsenSys, the nation’s leading blockchain company, opened its offices in Brooklyn in 2015 and already has more than 900 employees. Kickstarter, Etsy and Gimlet Media are three more nationally known Brooklyn-based tech innovators, amongst a list of a hundred others.
“Brooklyn is where millennials are trying to live,” said City Councilmember Antonio Reynoso, who represents the 34th District in Brooklyn, including portions of Bushwick, Greenpoint, and Williamsburg. “It’s a younger population that has grown up with tech their entire lives… These tech companies know that the talent and skill of a lot of these folks is in Brooklyn. So they’re building their hubs in locations where they think they have a large talent pool.”
And although most of Brooklyn’s tech sector is centralized in what has been dubbed The “Tech Triangle,” a cluster of three neighborhoods– Downtown Brooklyn, DUMBO and the Brooklyn Navy Yard– representing the largest concentration of tech activity outside of Manhattan, it also appears the area of East Williamsburg/Bushwick is becoming another hotspot for innovation.
Tech companies often follow creativity, Bowles pointed out. DUMBO, for instance, was one of the first neighborhoods in Brooklyn that had a lot of artists before tech startups began to suddenly emerge. The same can be said about the Flatiron and Meatpacking Districts in Manhattan: “I think a lot of tech companies have gone [to] where there’s a creative work force and a lot of artists in the neighborhood, and certainly Bushwick has been one of New York’s neighborhoods on the cutting edge of art and creativity. So there’s a lot of strength there,” said Bowles.
ConsenSys was one of the first to quietly set up shop in Bushwick, choosing a graffiti-ridden old warehouse as its headquarters, a play to blend into the neighborhood’s urban, raw landscape, while also inspire creativity. Launching around the same time as ConsenSys was Nooklyn, a real estate tech company, followed by Vimeo’s Livestream— two more startups planting their flags in Bushwick.
And then there’s Netflix which, in April, announced its plans to build a production hub in Bushwick within the next five years.
“When they move to Brooklyn, they understand the advances that have been made around technology, and that it has become a space for creatives to thrive,” said City Councilmember Rafael Espinal, who represents the 37th District in Brooklyn, which includes portions of Brownsville, Bushwick and East New York.
But he adds, “It’s extremely important that the city make the investment now to provide the tools to our local youth so that they can also participate in this economic opportunity.”
“We know not enough of the jobs are going to lower-income communities,” said Bowles. “We need to take steps that ensure more of the borough’s residents are being prepared for these good jobs.”
Lory George, partner at Queue.NYC, a Bushwick-based startup agrees: “I think Bushwick is one of the last raw places you can go to to see old Brooklyn, but at the same time, there are new tech companies pouring in,” said George who is also founder and CEO of Womynomics Ventures, an incubator investing in purpose & mission-driven start ups by women of color.
“Right now, it’s about how the city will assist those who have been in these neighborhoods all this time in being able to take advantage of this rapid growth.” Assisting the creative economy while helping underserved populations earn money is the goal of Queue.NYC, which is a B-Corp, so its mandate is for social good, George added.
“A majority of the content being created on the web is done by the average person,” said George. “On the business side, brands and marketers see these folks as currency, commodities that they then want to engage with to tell their stories to the masses. But there is no engine that connects the content creators who are making 70 percent of the content out there to this marketplace. And when they do connect, they’re only receiving 10 percent of the value of the IP they’re creating.”
For those tech platforms selling to advertisers, content is king. In fact, this year, for the first time in history, advertisers are spending more money in digital than in traditional advertising, and according to a report conducted by Forrester Research, by 2023, digital advertising’s yearly spend will reach $146 billion. Meanwhile, the creators behind this media content– videographers, documentarians, news organizations and even everyday people– are receiving only a fraction of those revenue dollars.
Through Queue.NYC– an incubator that will train digital content creators to fully participate in the exploding digital media advertising market– George and her partner, Yves Darbouze, are putting forth a business model that aims to recapture that lost revenue.
“We are taking under-valued advertising inventory and helping creators earn the full value of their work just by providing young companies the resources they go without which is often the reason they fail,” said Darbouze, who was formerly the founder and CEO of Charged.fm, a peer-to-peer online event marketplace he eventually sold to Vendini in 2015.
George added, “In essence, what we are doing is developing those people into their own microbusinesses by creating an engine where they get 100 percent of their value. Unlike other incubators that invest in tech or a product, we’re investing in people. We believe the economy of the future is about people.”
For George and Darbouze, those people aren’t just the ones newly arrived in Bushwick but, also, the long-time residents who’ve been building the art and creative scene in Brooklyn long before it was considered cool. The residents from these communities not only are tech savvy, but often have their finger on the pulse of “what’s next.” All they need is the training to be able to take part.
And Bowles agrees: “We know that not enough of the jobs are going to lower-income communities,” he said. “We need to take steps to ensure more of the borough’s residents are being prepared for these good jobs.”
Bowles said CUF is releasing in the next seven weeks a much more detailed policy brief aimed at government officials, an analysis of how the innovation economy is growing and recommendations on how to ensure more residents from lower income backgrounds have access to this economy.
Queue.NYC has secured a 40,000 sq. ft space on Moore Street in Bushwick through developer, Toby Moskovits and Heritage Equity Partners, for the company’s buildout. They’ve also gained the attention and letters of support from Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams, CM Reynoso and several brands and non-profit organizations.
Darbouze attributes the strong interest they’ve received not only to their chosen location of Bushwick as the next emerging tech center but, also, because they will be creating so many jobs while helping solve a major problem in the creative and digital media sector.
“We know that Netflix has done deep research and knows what we know: Bushwick has a real creator community– an authentic culture that you can’t fake,” said Darbouze. “They are coming to plug into Bushwick, not the other way around. Netflix’s expansion shows how voracious streaming media is for content, and they couldn’t have picked a better place than this community to crank out creativity.”