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Fordham summit envisions a Bronx “Silicon Alley”

Areas of Study , Entrepreneurship , Event Recaps , IT / Information Systems Stories | Oct 31, 2012 |

by Faye Kulik (GSB ’13)

Imagine Manhattan’s “Silicon Alley” extending up Jerome Avenue in the Bronx. Or blazing a trail across Fordham Road.

That was the vision that united business owners, students, professors and community leaders this month at a summit to discuss the future of entrepreneurship and technology in New York City’s northernmost borough.

Organized by Fordham’s Center for Digital Transformation, the Summit on Technology Startups in the Bronx focused on how to bring in new companies and create a Bronx version of what is often called “Silicon Alley,” downtown Manhattan’s “Silicon Valley of the East.”

The first step, according to Rogina Coar-Smith of the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, is to change the Bronx’s image. She said people’s perceptions of the borough, often mired in the 1970s “Bronx is Burning” era, do not reflect what it is today, much less its potential.

“As a community, we need to talk about things that energize the Bronx, and then companies will want to come here,” Coar-Smith said. “A way to change the image is to commit to the change.”

Instead of dwelling on what the Bronx lacks, it is important to focus on the resources it does have. Affordable commercial real estate makes it an attractive place for new businesses. There is a strong base in the fields of health care and mobile finance. Entrepreneurs and high-tech innovators need to be made aware of these circumstances, summit participants agreed.

Many summit panelists said progress could be made with techniques as simple as good marketing. They said the Bronx needs to be pitched in a positive way to make it seem cooler, like Manhattan or Brooklyn, where many East Coast startups are now located.

Anjali Kumar, an adjunct professor at Fordham and senior counsel at Google — a company that staked its own claim in Manhattan’s growing high-tech west side corridor via a giant office in Chelsea — pointed out an additional opportunity in schools such as Fordham, where Gabelli School of Business students already are developing ideas for new ventures.

“It is important to get students to start businesses while they are in school and stay in the area after,” she said.

Some mechanisms to encourage this are already in place. One is the Fordham Foundry, a university-sponsored business incubator on Fordham Road that will provide office space, mentoring, training courses and a networking community to small companies started by students, alumni, faculty and Bronx residents.

Another is the Concourse Fund, created by Fordham economics professor Darryl McLeod and several students. It provides consulting services for credit unions, microloans for startups and financial education.

The summit invited participants to think about how these seeds can be wrapped together with bigger ideas, such as a Bronx-wide rebranding, to trigger larger-scale change. Professor Evan Katsamakas suggested that the other boroughs that have experienced success in this regard should be looked upon as the Bronx’s inspiration, not its opposition.

“Bronx technology is not in competition with Brooklyn technology or Manhattan technology,” he said. “It is all part of larger New York technology ecosystem.”


Photograph by Axel Drainville on Flickr’s Creative Commons.

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