HackNY Connects Future Innovators to New York’s Startup Scene
Eager to build on the momentum in New York’s burgeoning startup community, the hackNY program offers college students from across country a taste of the city’s tech scene. The program, started some 18 months ago, is led by co-founders Evan Korth, faculty liaison for technology entrepreneurship at NYU, and Chris Wiggins, associate professor in the department of applied physics and applied mathematics at Columbia University. In includes competitions that push participants to build new technology products in a single weekend, as well as a summer program to get students’ feet wet working with local startups. Korth says hackNY’s mission is out to bring together the next generation of hackers.
HackNY held its most recent hackathon in October, and Korth hosted the Nov. 2 NY Tech Meetup where the winners and others demoed their ideas.
In a recent interview, Korth discussed hackNY’s goal of creating a network of young technologists—as well as veterans of the tech scene—who can mentor one another and potentially work with local startups.
Xconomy: How does hackNY introduce college students to the city’s tech community?
Evan Korth: We have a summer fellowship program, where for 10 weeks students from around the country live together in the NYU dorms. By day, they work at various startups around the city. And on some evenings we have a pedagogical series where they meet some great people in the tech community.
The other thing we do is we have hackathons twice a year, once in the fall and once in the spring. We’ve had four so far, this spring we’ll have our fifth. They are 24-hour hackathons, where students from up and down the east coast come to NYU and build on top of the APIs of about 15 New York City startups. [The hackathons] are a good way to help identify students that might be good candidates for the summer program.
X: What else can be done to keep homegrown technology talent motivated to stay in New York rather than move west to Silicon Valley?
EK: Part of the reason why we started hackNY is because not many college students know about the opportunities that existed in the New York City startup scene. Part of what we’re doing is educating the students so that they know these opportunities exist for them. If you’re a college senior, you’re more likely than not to follow in the footsteps of someone who’s come before you. Your friend who graduated a year ago might be at Google, or at Goldman Sachs and therefore you know about those jobs. Google is a great place to work; Wall Street could be a great place to work. I’d like my students to know about all the different types of options that are available to them before they make a decision.
For our last fellows class, we had over 100 applications from New York City startups that wanted to host a fellow. We ended up working with 33 of them. There’s tremendous opportunity for a young hacker to find work at a New York City startup. That could be a very early stage startup or a more mature startup. We have companies like Tumblr and SecondMarket and 10gen; these are pretty big companies already.
X: How have students responded? Are they remaining in New York to join local startups?
EK: Students are staying. Students that have gone through the hackNY program, those that have graduated and have not gone on to further schooling, most of them are here in the city working at startups. It’s a small number admittedly at this point, but the program is not yet two-years-old.
X: What else is hackNY doing to help meet the demand for talent in the local in the entrepreneurial community?
EK: We have a huge list of other initiatives that we’d like to do, and we are actively talking about working on some of them. Currently we don’t get involved in full-time placements. This is certainly something we’ve heard over and over from the community that we should be doing. Another thing we’d like to do is have a long-term mentorship program. The list goes on. But as of now it’s just me and Chris [Wiggins] and we’re actively recruiting for a general manager. Soon we’ll have that person and then we’ll see what the next steps are.
X: Is hackNY reaching out to students from outside the New York area?
EK: For the last hackathon we had 300 students from 50 universities RSVP. The last hackNY fellowship class, we had 35 students from 17 different universities, including as far west as Stanford, as far south as Western Carolina University, and as far north as McGill in Canada.
X: What are some key factors that shape the evolution of New York’s startup scene?
EK: If you ask ten entrepreneurs in New York City what is the biggest impediment to building a sustainable tech ecosystem in New York City, all ten of them will tell you developer talent. We’re addressing that problem directly. We don’t believe there is a shortage of developers. We believe there is an education problem and they don’t know about the opportunities that exist for them here in New York.