The Bronx may not be the first place that comes to mind when one thinks of the tech industry, but the second annual Bronx Tech Expo held Friday, April 28 at Metropolitan College anticipates a change to that perception.
The event, spearheaded by Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr., is aimed at exploring ways the borough can benefit from the multifaceted industries that fall under “tech,” such as programming, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology, 3-D manufacturing, online commerce, social media and video game development.
While the borough does not have much representation in those industries, the potential is there as depressed industrial sites give way to new development in the south Bronx.
That’s how Brooklyn became the epicenter of New York’s tech industry, explained keynote speaker David Belt, who leads New Lab at Brooklyn Navy Yard.
That public-private partnership houses several startups that otherwise may not have a place to develop.
“There was no place for hardware, so if you’re an entrepreneur who wants to make a physical product at a high level in New York, unless you are part of a university or a big company which ends up owning all your intellectual property, you have nowhere to do it.”
Belt said the borough’s role as the city’s breadbasket lends itself to programs such as hydroponic farming
“People talk about farm-to-table, but New York City is Bronx-to-table, all the food comes through the Bronx,” Belt said.
The Bronx has many areas that could facilitate tech industries, said Adam Lupinsky of architectural firm WXY, which helped develop the now-thriving thriving Brooklyn Tech Triangle.
“You look at Port Morris, Mott Haven, Hunts Point, the Bank Note buildings…you have so many assets,” he said. “How do you start to draw those assets out? And you also have interesting spaces above retail corridors.”
Alfredo Agueiro of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation explained his organization’s role overseeing the Bronx Empowerment Zones, which includes Hunts Point, Port Morris and areas along the western Bronx up to High Bridge.
The BOEDC lends money out at lower rates than banks to startups in efforts to kickstart economic development and create jobs.
It now has an eye to the future, Agueiro said, funding companies such as the software development company Scenyc (pronounced scenic) that now calls the Bronx home.
“Now that technology is the lynchpin of society and we’re all intertwined in that, and the hard manufacturing jobs left, we have to figure out how to support the new businesses,” Agueiro said.
Like Belt, he said the billion-dollar food industry based in Hunts Point was a natural place for technology to develop.
“When you place an order with Fresh Direct or Marley Spoon, it doesn’t print out on somebody’s desk and they go collect the items,” he explained. “It’s all software-based, paired with hardware. These are the industries BOEDC is looking to support.”
Diaz Jr. welcomed the crowd by telling them the Bronx wanted a slice of the growing tech economy, and was building the needed infrastructure and transportation such as four Metro North stations.