I recently had the opportunity to sit down with one of the cofounders of IncubateNYC, a business incubator devoted to enriching and transforming the Harlem community into the next startup hotspot in New York City. Until now this activity had gravitated more towards lower Manhattan and Brooklyn and had yet to really penetrate anything above 96th street. Below is our conversation.
What prompted you to create IncubateNYC?
After graduating from college, a group of guys (including my cofounder) and I, started this organization called ‘InHouse’. It was a way for us to pull our capital together and make investments in the newest small businesses in Harlem and other urban communities along the East Coast. In addition to investing in these businesses, we also provided advisory services. We invested in everything from an upscale wine store in Harlem to a tech business based in Chicago. We did this for the last 5-6 years as something on the side. During that time we logged over 1500 hours of advisory services, made six investments, and never lost a dollar while doing it!
About eight months ago, the NYC Economic Development Cooperation began accepting applications for a grant to build to an incubator in Harlem. That gave my cofounder and I the inspiration to take our work to the next level. The goal of IncubateNYC is to make Harlem the next technology center in New York City.
How do you think the neighborhood is going to have an impact on the type of businesses that will apply to Incubate NYC?
At the beginning, it will have some effect with people being unsure. The idea is still new in some people’s minds even though residential has started to pick up and people have begun moving into the community. However, someone has to start the process and start the movement.
So I think getting people used to coming up to Harlem is Step 1. Step 2 is getting some great businesses to go up there and do well. Step 3 is providing other aspects in that community that are necessary. We are going to do one thing and do it really well but there needs to be other people to come and fill out the overall ecosystem.
What type of services can IncubateNYC offer?
Most entrepreneurs start with an idea. Accelerator programs help that entrepreneur turn that idea into a product. We want to be the stage afterwards that helps those entrepreneurs with a product that are looking to either get funding or scale their business. That is where we think we can be most helpful and really apply the resources that we have in our network.
IncubateNYC has a superb roster of partnerships. In what capacity are these various companies and universities going to be working with IncubateNYC?
One of the major issues for building a tech community in NYC is having engineers. We recognized this need early on and intend to provide our startups access to engineering talent either through Google or Colombia University School of Engineering. Also, long term there are more opportunities to become more integrated to Google by using some of their newer technologies as well as gaining access to Google Ventures.
We have also partnered with Holtz, Rubenstein, & Reminick to service our startup’s accounting needs and Alston+Bird to service our startup’s legal needs.
The Abyssinian Development Corporation is providing our real estate.
Once you are up and running how many companies do you think you can foster?
We think in terms of individuals. For the space that we have we want to provide services to about 30 individuals. One of the reasons why is that we recognize that especially within upper Manhattan there are a lot of entrepreneurs that are solopreneurs. They are freelancers. They might have a business but not a full team. I think early on that is going to be our market and then we are going to expand over time and get broader businesses within there.
What if you don’t receive funding from the NYC Economic Development Cooperation?
We have been lucky enough to raise private capital so regardless of the way things turn out we are still moving forward with IncubateNYC!
Currently there are no other incubators in Harlem. It’s about building a community and starting a movement. There is no better place to show that you can change a community through technology than Harlem. If we are successful in changing and reshaping Harlem through this initiative it will be very powerful. You can take that model to other places like Brazil or South Africa.
The possibilities are endless when you are able to show that two young guys like us start with a dream on changing the way people think about a community and really develop that. It is going to be amazing!
Interview by Joe Gregory – @joe_gregory