What’s next for NYC tech?

Mayor Bloomberg addresses the New York Tech Meetup in 2011. Credit: Clay Williams/NYTM

Last week I attended the NY Tech Meetup. For a certain segment of the NYC tech community, NYTM is something of an institution. It was the flagship group when Meetup.com was founded, and its format (usually half a dozen startups giving demos) has the feeling of a mini TechCrunch Disrupt.

I remember when NYTM was held in the IAC building lobby in the mid 2000’s, against the backdrop of that enormous screen which at the time looked like something out of Bladerunner.

I sat within spitball-firing distance of Henry Blodget. Neil Capel was telling me about a new email API he had developed that would later become SailThru. Google had just acquired Dodgeball, the SMS location service founded by Dennis Crowley and Alex Rainert (later to morph into Foursquare and Swarm). Fred Wilson was going on about something new called Twttr. (I thought “whatevs Fred, good luck with the birdie messaging service.” A few weeks later my addiction began.)

It was a weird, exciting time for NYC tech. The scene was buzzing with people trying to build cool new things in what felt like a universe of possibility.

A decade later, I can’t help but feel that we’ve reached a kind of stasis, maybe an inevitable side-effect of a maturing industry. There’s less novelty involved in showing off new web or mobile platforms, and the tools to build them have reached nearly commodity status.

Formally, the New York Tech Meetup has actually merged with the New York Tech Council, to form what is now called the NY Tech Alliance, a somewhat confusing amalgamation of names.

Tickets to the 600-person event used to sell out within hours; this time there were 100+ unsold tickets the day before, and plenty of open seats, although by the end the audience had filled out a bit.

There were some pretty cool demos at this month’s event. My favorite was goTenna, an off-grid long-range mesh networking device which will be perfect for communicating in the post-apocalyptic world that’s sure to arrive (that, or hiking).

Another more hackerish tool was Init.ai, a platform for developers to build and train conversational apps.

There is no shortage of incredibly smart, creative people doing cool things in NYC. And the Meetup ecosystem is thriving as much as ever. One of the new features of Meetup, which showed off new app that launched last month, helps users find untapped local demand for new meetup categories. (A bizarre highlight of the evening was when Scott Heiferman, founder and CEO of Meetup, ostensibly to celebrate his new app, attempted to smash a watermelon on stage with a sledgehammer before being stopped by venue security.)

And if you take one look at Gary’s Guide, or attend a talk at Decoded Fashion, or take a class at General Assembly, or attend a talk at Postlight, or catch a presentation over lunch at Pivotal Labs, it’s clear that there’s no shortage of events, spaces, and companies trying to innovate within the industries that are distinctly New York: finance, real estate, fashion, culture, media. The list goes on.

Nevertheless I can’t help but feel like the NYC tech ecosystem has a more subdued energy than in the days of “Internet 2.0.”

Maybe the reality is that it’s just ripe for disruption.

So what’s next for NYC tech? Where are the opportunities? Will the innovators be hardware hackers like goTenna or AI bots, or some new category we have yet to uncover?


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