Future Cities - Catapult
new york, Advocate
City as an Advocate: lessons from New York City City as an Advocate: lessons from New York City

How cities can build a powerful brand and network for their entrepreneurs.

Start-ups often struggle to gain the exposure needed to attract investment and talent. With limited contacts, marketing budgets and recruiting capabilities, isolated SMEs lack the reach of larger organisations. In such cases, a city government’s ability to convene can be used to great effect to act as a champion and network builder for its start-ups.

Successful advocacy helps build a brand for a city’s start-up community, which in turn strengthens the scope and scale of the community’s network. The gravitas of a strong brand can attract new entrepreneurs, partners, investment, talent and customers both locally and globally. This can help SMEs to develop their own credibility and find a scale of opportunities that they could not achieve alone.

New York City (NYC) is a leading example of how good and strategic branding can accelerate entrepreneurial development. Between 2003 and 2013, the New York City’ tech scene raised $3.1 billion in funding, with capital availability growing twice as fast as Silicon Valley.[1] What is perhaps most remarkable is that 86% of current jobs in the city’s tech sector were generated in 2013 alone.[2] A large part of this success is attributable to the city’s role in acting as an advocate and putting the city on the map among traditional start up hubs like San Francisco, California or Boulder, Colorado.

A city can enhance the brand of their entrepreneurs

Like many start up communities, New York’s tech scene developed organically and was driven by entrepreneurs themselves. However, recognising the community as an important element of the city’s economic development strategy, Mayor Michael Bloomberg chose to endorse the ecosystem by creating a ‘Made in NY’ brand. Working with the Media & Entertainment commissioner and Chief Digital Officer, Bloomberg launched ‘We are made in NY’, a campaign to showcase the city as an energetic site of creativity.

A publicity campaign promoted the resources provided by NYC for start-ups. The campaign also aimed to encourage local talent to support local business and join new businesses. The initiative was further supported by New York’s burgeoning media outlets, many of which lent resources in the effort to promote the city’s tech scene.

The scheme helped to provide highly valued publicity to individual start-ups. It ran a print and digital campaign featuring start-up employees, encouraged SMEs to create 60-second videos profiling their businesses and opened up the ‘Made in NY’ brand to all start-ups with at least 75% of development based in the city. This built credibility for the companies, by promoting the purchase of local goods and services. Entrepreneurs have noted that the initiative evokes a strong sense of pride and has raised camaraderie within the community.[3]

Cities can develop a network for their entrepreneurs

One of the most important elements of city branding is its ability to help build a tech network. Advocacy can entice international talent, encourage partnership among locals and inspire start-ups with success stories from entrepreneurs.

Digital.NYC is an online hub for NYC’s start-up ecosystem. Driven by the Mayor’s Office and the NYC Economic Development Corporation, it connects more than 6000 start-ups to over 150 companies and investors, runs events and classes as well as links local talent to hiring SMEs. A digital map shows the location of over 500 local start-ups and provides details of job opportunities. Where there are gaps, the city can further assist. For example, the city is now seeking to bring a new tech campus to the city to help plug the engineering skill gap.

Past initiatives run by Digital.NYC to bring people together include the Reinvent Green Hackathon, the BigApps Competition, the Reinvent Payphones Challenge and a partnership with Code for America to help solve problems of the criminal justice system.

Networks are powerful for start-ups and the cities that reap goods, services and jobs from successful start-up communities. A study by Endeavour noted that the three top companies in New York’s start-up community have spurred and influenced the creation of 400 subsequent start-ups.[4] Successful start-ups not only provide inspiration and roadmaps for future companies, they also are a source of investment for new companies. Entrepreneurship is self-reinforcing and the stronger the network that the city can foster, the more success stories it is likely to see.

Cities can use their global reach to enhance their entrepreneurs

New York City advocates for its local businesses on an international platform through the ‘World to NYC initiative’. The programme launched by the NYC Economic Development Corporation invites innovative international companies to contribute to the local ecosystem. The idea is to generate conversations around new technological trends and best practices. World to NYC also provides start-ups with credibility on the international stage, access to invaluable international networks and furthers the reach of New York City’s brand.

[1] Endeavour Insight (2014), The Power of Entrepreneur Networks: How New York City Became the Role Model for Other Urban Tech Hubs, p. 2.

[2] ibid.

[3] http://wearemadeinny.com/about/

[4] R. Florida, Is New York the New Model for Startup Cities? 17 November 2014, [http://www.citylab.com/tech/2014/11/is-new-york-the-new-model-for-startup-cities/382822/].