When the latest class of Techstars NYC took the stage last week, the startups were not the only ones looking ahead—the city had its eye on the future as well.
Among the 14 teams that graduated from the fall session (see slideshow), familiar faces Sara Chipps and Jason Baptiste turned up with their latest forays in tech.
Baptiste, who was in the very first Techstars NYC class back in 2011 as the founder and CEO of OnSwipe, displayed his usual moxie this time to pitch Morsel—a way for companies to provide healthier lunches to their employees.
Seeing Baptiste back in the ranks of Techstars is a bit indicative of the growth (and growing pains) the New York tech scene goes through. OnSwipe developed a content publishing and advertising platform, and after twists and turns that included a leadership change at the very top, the company was somewhat quietly acquired in 2014 by Beanstock Media.
After OnSwipe, things seemed quiet with Baptiste until he returned to Techstars with Morsel. He spoke to me after the demos and talked about why he came back to the accelerator with his latest project. “The next thing I wanted to do was in health,” Baptiste said.
Having been through the grinder before, founding and trying to scale up a startup, he said his experience helped prepare him for what to focus on and missteps to avoid. “It’s kind of like muscle memory,” Baptiste said.
For Chipps, demo day was a different kind of return engagement. Last Tuesday, she stood on the very same stage, at the NYU Skirball Center, to present Jewelbots at the New York Tech Meetup.
When she demoed last Thursday for Techstars though, she talked more openly about what is happening at her startup. “Over the past four months, we have done over $200,000 in revenue,” she said.
Chipps also announced the first licensing agreement, with Cartoon Network, for Jewelbots. “The Powerpuff Girls are going to have their own custom charms and bands,” she said.
Another license agreement Jewelbots landed is with Google for its Made with Code program, she said, and she hinted at more announcements to come in 2016.
Jewelbots are programmable bracelets marketed for girls that they can set up to blink in certain colors when different friends who also have the bracelets are nearby. Chipps said this can be a way to inspire young women to take an interest in coding, which might do a little something to address the gender disparity in the tech scene.
During her own career in the software industry, Chipps co-founded Girl Develop It, a non-profit that provides education in coding to women. She was also chief technology officer at the Flatiron School. Though she started to code when she was 12-years-old, Chipps said technology is still often presented as something primarily for boys.
For example, many high-tech toys marketed this holiday are aimed at boys while dolls are typically pitched as go-to gifts for girls. “Baby Alive is arguably one of the hottest toys of 2015,” Chipps said. “What makes Baby Alive special? She shits Play-Doh.”
The creation of Jewelbots, Chipps said, came from a desire to see some balance in how youths get introduced to technology. “Girls are brilliant and they deserve better,” she said.
There was more discussion after the demos about inspiring young minds to get interested in technology. Fred Wilson from Union Square Ventures highlighted the need to make technology literacy part of education in all schools.
Seeing engineering knowhow amongst founders is important for startups, he said. “Being able to make the product you want to put into the market is the critical thing to getting a company off the ground,” Wilson said.
Over the past five years, he has been working on an effort to nurture more engineering talent in New York. The desire in the city to build up the field of homegrown tech professionals has led to a variety of separate initiatives underway, such as the continuing construction of the Cornell Tech campus on Roosevelt Island, and the development of the Tech Talent Pipeline.
With Computer Science for All, Wilson wants to the prepare youths for a world where coding may seem like a second language. “The idea is every student in New York public schools is going to get computer science education,” he said. “Elementary school, middle school, and high school.”
The campaign includes training teachers, even those with no prior exposure, how to teach computer science. So far Wilson has gotten Techstars, AppNexus, Bitly, Etsy, Facebook, Justworks, MongoDB, Nestio, Warby Parker, and Yext on board to help fund and support Computer Science for All, which can include internships and mentorship.
Wilson previously spread the word in November at the New York Tech Meetup about this initiative. Democratizing tech education is not just about getting more people in the running for programs such as Techstars though. The number of tech jobs in the city, some 230,000 by Wilson’s reckoning, extends beyond the startup scene. “Every company is becoming a tech company,” he said. “Banking, brokerage, media, retail—all these companies now have big software engineering teams.”
Filling those positions with locals, though, will not happen easily or in a hurry. “We think we’re going to need another 200,000 engineers in New York City in the next decade to service the growing demand for tech talent,” Wilson said.
Making computer science education a part of every New York child’s curriculum, he believes, could lead to about 10 percent getting on the path to technical careers. “Not everybody is going to do this,” he said, “but if you give every body the opportunity, a large number will choose to do it.”
Wilson said he hopes to see 100,000 New York students who graduate high school go directly into the tech world or further their education in this sector.