Digital Media Center Brings Tech Players and Investors to Times Square

1/25/12Follow @jpruth

With a kind of candor that speaks of the motivation in the startup and investment communities, angel investor Jerry Neumann talked bluntly Tuesday evening about the companies he backs. “All of my entrepreneurs are irritating,” he said jokingly during a panel discussion at the Digital Media Center event held at Times Square in New York. “They need to be smarter than me, they need to be more driven than me, they need to be people who can go the distance,” he said.

Neumann took the stage with Benjamin Wolin, CEO and co-founder of Everyday Health in New York, and moderator Dennis Kneale, senior media and technology correspondent for FOX Business Network. Wolin and Neumann spoke about the startup and investment scene during the third and final panel of Tuesday’s event, hosted at the Nasdaq Marketsite by Digital Media Center, a New York group formed in late 2011 that brings together investors, digital media startups, and other industry players.

Digital Media Center was formed by Cooley, CTPartners, Deloitte, Nasdaq, and Silicon Valley Bank.

The night kicked off with representatives from Facebook, Samsung, and EMC’s data storage division Isilon Systems discussing trends in social, local, and mobile technology—then continued with a look at the future of digital content through the eyes of Verizon and Heart Television. Wolin and Neumann later engaged in a lively conversation about funding and building up startups in the current clime.

“It’s a lot easier to raise small amounts of capital,” Wolin said, “certainly to get started it’s a lot easier than it was ten years ago.” Everyday Health operates websites for brands such as South Beach Diet.

“It’s a great time to be an entrepreneur,” said Neumann. He has been investing in New York companies for 15 years. Neumann said aside from the late 1990s, New York is now experiencing its hottest period for entrepreneurship.

That does not mean startups can find money from every potential source. Neumann said startups face a stark reality if they want to raise funds through public offerings in the current environment. “There is no IPO market right now for smaller companies,” he said.

Wolin said valuations, especially for strong companies, currently seem to be better in the private funding sector than the public market. “You have to convince [fewer] versus many people that your company is a good value,” he said. The herd mentality in public markets, he said, can also pull down valuations. “If the market is bad all the small companies suffer,” Wolin said. “If you’re relatively small in the big scheme of things you don’t want to be a public company right now. The risks far outweigh the rewards.”

The other panels at the event included discussions on future technology trends. Andy Mitchell, manager of strategic media partnerships for Facebook, said interaction and discovery of content online will happen increasingly through the lens of the users’ social contacts. “We think today and in the future [the Web] is about the wisdom of your friends,” he said. “What’s going to be most important is what your friends are listening to, watching, or reading.”

Meanwhile big incumbents in media are trying to evolve in a market that shifts with new disruptive technology. Kathleen Sullivan, chief marketing officer for Verizon Digital Media Services, and Roger Keating, senior vice president with Hearst Television, spoke about delivering digital media content to the masses. For example, Verizon plans to stream live video of the upcoming Super Bowl to its wireless subscribers.

Keating said his company has embraced changes in the market sparked by user-generated video content and mobile devices. He also serves on the board of Mobile Content Ventures, a partnership of broadcasters that plan to offer live television through the Dyle mobile service later this year. “We have no illusions that people are going to watch TV or the same type programming through these new devices,” he said. “When we do a news cast we invite people to send in the footage they capture.”

Keating said his and other traditional media companies look for new ideas from within but also learn new tricks from startups. “Innovation will come from small companies and hopefully many of them right here in New York City,” he said.

Even with that demand for innovation not every startup will survive a landscape dominated by larger, more stoic tech companies. The discussion between Neumann and Wolin, for example, briefly shifted to the fate of New York’s Dodgeball, a location-based service which Google acquired in 2005 and then terminated in 2009. Meanwhile Dennis Crowley, one of Dodgeball’s co-founders, went on to co-found Foursquare.

Neumann was not surprised by the demise of Dodgeball. “Google is a gigantic bureaucracy,” he said. “You can’t do anything inside Google.”

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

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