By Melissa O’Young, Founder of Let’s Collaborate!
For Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The global economy has changed rapidly over the past few years, and is evolving from a manufacturing one into a dynamic high-tech world where a little imagination makes anything possible. People worldwide are starting to do what our ancestors did for centuries — share.
But this isn’t your granddad’s town hall meeting. Technology lets us exchange money, goods and ideas across cities, states and countries at an unprecedented rate. Sites like Airbnb and Etsy allow users to open up their homes to travelers or sell their wares to customers worldwide. Kickstarter and Indiegogo have started a crowdfunding revolution, letting anyone with a bank account give towards projects they deem worthy. These innovations are changing lives — from the potter who can now work from home in Bushwick while selling crafts to customers in Germany, to the budding developer in DUMBO who can find funding for an app without Silicon Valley connections.
But the global nature and pace of this tech revolution make it harder and harder for New York to keep up and ensure it stays at the forefront of change and is fostering a high-tech climate of innovation. At Let’s Collaborate!, we work to bring like-minded individuals together to talk about their ideas and provide a forum for entrepreneurs, developers and investors.
The city also does its part through investments from groups like the city-funded New York City Economic Development Corporation. From tax credits to competitions to creating a common table for collaboration, when New York invests in innovation, the whole city wins. When looking at the city’s investment in NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering’s incubation program — just one of many programs the city invests in — the economic impact of the programs have been $251.2 million. This number includes direct and indirect job creation, taxes and spending. By 2015, the impact is projected to be $719.8 million.
Forums and incubators are only part of the solution; New York must also welcome new technologies and new ways of doing business here in the city, even if the regulatory framework doesn’t exist. Otherwise, all the collaboration and investment in the world won’t matter if we fail to foster an environment where the products of those investments and inventions can thrive.
Lyft is an example of emerging technology where existing regulation does not exist. Lyft connects willing drivers in the neighborhood with those in need of transportation. It’s a common-sense evolution of the simple concept of giving someone a lift, and empowers ordinary citizens — who undergo rigorous background checks and DMV clearance — to earn extra money and set their own driving hours. It also provides a vital service for riders, particularly those who live and work in areas that are underserved by other transportation options. But because the service is donation-based and a novel approach to transportation, it falls outside the city’s regulatory structure. Thousands of other examples exist.
New York City is well on its way to becoming the next big American tech center with the investments it’s already made and the sheer number of bright and creative people who call this city home. But beyond investment, New York also needs to develop a smart approach to tackling legacy regulatory structures. I’m optimistic that this openness to creativity will help to build tomorrow’s economy one New Yorker at a time.
Melissa O'Young is a Brooklyn resident and Founder of Let's Collaborate!, an organization that is connecting and growing the collaborative consumption community and movement in NYC.