IncubateNYC Hopes to Stir A New Harlem Renaissance With Startups

A campaign to win the contract to bring a technology incubator to Harlem went into high gear on Monday with the launch of a new website. IncubateNYC, a group of entrepreneurs and investors co-founded by Marcus Mayo and Brian Shields, believes it has the answer to the New York City Economic Development Corporation’s request for proposals to establish a home near 125th Street to nurture fledgling tech companies.

Though New York has technology incubators scattered across neighborhoods such as SoHo and Brooklyn’s DUMBO (Down Under the Manhattan Bridge Overpass), Harlem has not seen similar activity.

“Right now people are leaving Harlem to go to the West Coast,” Mayo says, “or they are going to other places in the country because they don’t see the opportunity here.” He says entrepreneurs are looking for places they can scale up their businesses, and he believes a technology incubator in Harlem could be an attractive prospect for startups. “There is talent in Harlem and around the country that is looking to relocate where there is more access for building out their businesses and providing resources,” Mayo says.

According to its request for proposals, Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s administration wants a business incubator in place in the vicinity of 125th Street, with an emphasis on technology, new media, and services, and it may include co-working space. Mayo says IncubateNYC has signed up not-for-profit Abyssinian Development Corp. as a community partner for its proposal. Mayo must work fast to finalize his plans. Proposals for the incubator are due by Dec. 29.

As big companies such as Google, Amazon, and now Facebook fill their offices in New York with developers and other technical personnel, Mayo believes there is a chance to share their expertise and know-how with more of the city. “That type of activity is all going on below 96th Street,” he says. “There’s a whole part of this island that isn’t really accessing this new technology boom.”

Technology startups, though a growing part of the city’s industries, have yet to gather in force in Harlem. East Harlem is home to the Kitchen Incubator at La Marqueta, which opened last January to help aspiring bakers.

If IncubateNYC’s proposal is chosen by the city, Mayo says he and Shields would serve as the primary operators. “We are finance guys who work in business development,” Mayo says. He says they want to structure the incubator around education, consumer health care, and healthier living—industries which he and Shields understand.

Mayo works in new business development for Weight Watchers and formerly was a private equity investor with ICV Partners. Shields is a senior manager of commercial strategy with Solstas Lab Partners and was previously a private equity investor with Welsh, Carson, Anderson & Stowe.

Others participating in IncubateNYC include Collin Wallace, founder of mobile commerce app developer FanGo Software Systems; Evan Shore, founder of The Noah’s Ark Foundation; and Danielle Leslie, founder and CEO of social media branding startup We Are BIGFiSH.

Mayo says they want to work with startups that, for example, develop technology to improve the systems physicians use to process payments from patients. They also want to cultivate startups that leverage technology to revamp education. Mayo says helping new businesses get off the ground can be essential to boosting local employment. “You can revitalize the economy through new startups,” he says.

IncubateNYC is considering two potential sites for its proposed incubator, Mayo says, which would be in the 4,000-to-5,000 square foot range and house 10 startups per year. Though billed as an incubator, he says, IncubateNYC would be a hybrid that includes some business accelerator strategies to fit Harlem’s needs. “What works in Union Square and downtown on Varick Street won’t necessarily work up here,” he says.

Mayo says IncubateNYC would offer reduced rent to startups as well as some funding opportunities. “We want to seed these businesses when they come to the incubator,” he says. That funding would be offered in exchange for a portion of the startups.

Mayo says IncubateNYC is working with Abyssinian Development Corp. to find a corporate partner to support the campaign. “We’re not really even asking for money,” he says. “We just want them to support the idea and maybe provide resources.” IncubateNYC plans to host an event on Dec. 10 in the hopes of drawing more local backing for its efforts. “The success of this will come from having support of the tech community,” Mayo says.

João-Pierre S. Ruth is the editor of Xconomy New York. He can be reached at and followed on Twitter @jpruth. Follow @jpruth

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