If “SoBro” is ever going to be on par with “Silicon Valley,” the Bronx is going to have to overcome some real challenges.
Those challenges were laid out at “Technology Start-Ups in the Bronx: Opportunities and Challenges,” a summit held at the Gabelli School of Business on Oct. 17.
The conference, which was sponsored by the Fordham Schools of Business and the Center for Digital Transformation, brought together leaders in technology, business, education and government, as well as community members and students, to address what the Bronx has—and what it lacks—that technology start-ups need.
Steven D’Agustino, Ph.D, director of Fordham’s RETC Center for Professional Development, laid bare the economic realities that need to be overcome. Approximately 16 percent of Bronx residents live on less than $10,000 a year, 25 percent don’t speak fluent English, and 31 percent over age 25 have not earned a high school diploma.
Health is a problem too. Residents of Morrisania and Highbridge have a 75 percent higher rate of teenage pregnancy than the rest of the city, and the highest percentage of residents who die before age 75.
What the Bronx does have is a plethora of cheap real estate that would be attractive to startups, a location that is 30 minutes away from venture capital located in four of richest counties in the country, five major hospitals, and seven colleges and universities.
Panelists spoke of both nurturing businesses within the Bronx, as well as luring new ones to the borough.
Rogina Coar-Smith, director of procurement and MWBE Programs at the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, talked about partnering with existing small business owners, to help them stay on top of the latest technology trends.
“Technology is the next step to moving everybody into an era of growth, employment, and education,” she said.
Teresita Abay Krueger, an advisory board member of Latin Business Today and director of social media for the Murray Hill Institute, said one of the challenges she and others face is demonstrating to large enterprises what the return on investment (ROI) is when it comes to technology.
“A case in point is retail,” she said. “They were pretty slow for a period of time in departing from their classic brick and mortar store environment to that virtual environment.
“You really have to demonstrate to the folks what is the ROI, and it has to be in dollars and cents.”
When it comes to luring investors to the Bronx, Coar-Smith also called it a public relations issue. Many investors are still stuck with that notion that “The Bronx is burning.”
“We have anchor stores, there are tennis courts, we have parks, all of that is here. Yes, we used to have a crime problem, but if you look at the crime, actually we’re a little bit safer than a lot of the other boroughs.”
Nestor Davidson, a Fordham professor of law, speculated that just one or two success stories from a startup like Etsy or Foursquare could be all it takes to put the Bronx on the map.
“The conditions are so ripe here . . . that if you can overcome that information barrier, and you communicate to people who think in a very different way and are attuned to that spark of what a successful environment is, it can quickly become a virtuous cycle,” he said.
The panel also featured Anjali Kumar, senior counsel, Google Inc. and adjunct professor, Gabelli School of Business, and Charlene Reid, executive director/principal of the Bronx Charter School for Excellence.