By Kathryn Casteel. Xavier Alemany, 25, of Castle Hill and Hoa Nguyen, 30, at a Bronx Tech Meetup at the Urban Development Center in December.
By Kathryn Casteel. Xavier Alemany, 25, of Castle Hill and Hoa Nguyen, 30, at a Bronx Tech Meetup at the Urban Development Center in December.

New startup accelerator helps new businesses take off

The tech sector in New York City has been one of the fastest growing areas for jobs over the past decade, but the Bronx has lagged behind.

In the city as a whole, tech employment rose 71 percent between 2004 and 2014, according to a study by the Center for an Urban Future. But while Manhattan and Brooklyn sped ahead with close to an 80 percent growth in tech jobs, Bronx employment in the sector rose only 12 percent.

Bronx tech startups and companies are trying to make the borough a valuable place for innovation and tech jobs. Over the past few years there has been a boost in incubators, technology training, and careers available in the borough. Most recently, a startup accelerator called MetaBronx has launched in Mott Haven to change the face of the tech world by exclusively working startups owned by minority and women in the borough.

Creating a collaborative tech ecosystem and keeping a focus on community betterment are the ideals that many Bronx techies feel will put the borough on the map as a major player in the future of the New York City tech world.

“If we bring a tech ecosystem over here, if we enhance what we’re doing here, then it will bring jobs,” said Tina Shoulders, co-founder of the Bronx Tech Meetup. “That’s what everybody needs, that’s what the Bronx needs.”

At a meetup last December at the new Urban Development Center in Port Morris, which houses the technology company Doran Jones and the IT training center Per Scholas, experienced business owners, aspiring entrepreneurs and those just wanting to get their start in the tech ecosystem came together to discuss how far tech in the Bronx has come since the group was formed in 2012.

Since that time tech has started to take off in the borough. In 2015 alone organizations like The Knowledge House, a non-profit in Hunts Point that trains underserved youth on technology, Per Scholas, Doran Jones, and now MetaBronx have all taken a stake in the South Bronx to push for a tech ecosystem in different ways.

Many leaders of these organizations agree that a key factor for tech success in the borough is collaboration.

“There is a real sense of community in the Bronx and people are trying to help each other,” said Keith Klain, Co-CEO of Doran Jones about his experience working in Port Morris. “There’s a chance for the Bronx to define itself as a tech hub. We might be the first tech company in the Bronx, but I don’t think we’ll be the last.”

At MetaBronx, so far six Bronx start-ups have started working through a 3-to-4-month consulting process on how to move their companies to the next level. MetaBronx also partners with The Knowledge House in an incubator program called TechTank to prepare young adults careers in for the tech world by helping them to learn entrepreneurial skills and business models. These students can go on to work for startups at MetaBronx or become entrepreneurs at the accelerator themselves, thus creating a tech talent pipeline in the borough.

Jerelyn Rodriguez, co-founder of The Knowledge House said that the collaboration is needed because of negative perceptions of the Bronx, which often keeps Manhattan tech professionals from coming to the borough. These companies and nonprofits have to put the future of tech in the Bronx in their own hands.

“You see a lot of government officials talking about technology,” said Rodriguez. “I would say a lot of these initiatives just weren’t reaching the Bronx. We still have to educate the public on the opportunities here and as Bronx residents themselves become leaders we can help reshape that reputation.”

According to Miguel Sanchez, co-founder of MetaBronx, tech companies in the Bronx also tend to create technology and applications with their own communities in mind. Instead of specifically working to create billion dollar businesses in a competitive environment like Silicon Valley, several Bronx tech start-ups and entrepreneurs work together to create a better connection to resources for Bronxites, while still improving the overall economic development of the borough with profitable tech companies.

“The way a lot these newer tech programs, training programs, accelerators work is they identify what the community needs and then create the programs based on that,” Sanchez said.

One example is Neture, a startup working out of MetaBronx founded by Bronxite Marlin Jenkins to eventually provide free Internet access and computers to low-income families throughout the borough.

“There are all these issues in a place like the Bronx, like food, health, economic development, workforce, which from a startup standpoint are super interesting,” said Philip Shearer, another founder of MetaBronx. “It’s going to be hard to find solutions to those problems if you’re sitting in an office downtown.”

Assemblyman Michael Blake, who is establishing a partnership with MetaBronx, has heavily promoted tech development in the area. He and MetaBronx are working to expand and establish another location for a start-up work space in his district around Morrisania.

Blake said that he will use his political influence to make Bronx startups more attractive than those coming out of Manhattan.

“There’s intrigue of who’s this young guy in the Bronx that’s making things happen here, and quite frankly I’m going to use that to our advantage,” said Blake. “I am committed and adamant that this will be the urban revival story of this country.”

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