New York, New York—If You Can Make It Here, You Can Make It Anywhere

A virtual visit to NYC for the Building Bridges program.

Written by: Victoria Wæthing

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Insight gives you an exclusive recap of conversations with investors and founders coming from NYC, discussing investing in tech, the business eco system of NYC, and philanthropy.

Wednesday this week, the group of participants at Building Bridges hosted by Jen Koss went to New York to learn about the business and startup eco system in the city of dreams. Today, NYC has seventy-five Fortune 500 companies and 9000 + startups. There are 410,000 women-owned businesses and 100+ accelerators and incubators.

It has been said that if you make it here, you can make it anywhere. Well, we had the pleasure of listening to some of the people that did make it.

Norway v. NYC

The first session was a conversation between the Norwegian investor Arne Halleraker, the Principal of FJ Labs​ and Hayley Barna, Partner at First Round and Co-Founder of Birchbox.

When speaking about the ecosystem in NYC, they both emphasized the diversity that exists in the city regarding business. From stocks and banks to fashion companies, there is such a large blend across both industries and talent. Additionally, during the last two decades these industries have also laid the basis for highly successful tech companies, one example being the food and consumer industry, where the focus on sustainability has led a general trend. Within the food industry, companies are now producing products made from plants, labs and proteins resulting in inventive solutions and innovation emerging from consumer wants and desires.

Barna also highlighted the difference between the businesses of New York and Silicon Valley, and how there has been an upswing among the New York based companies in health tech and consumer markets as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic.

ANGEL INVESTORS

Barna explained that for founders that have received funding from angels and then had success, there is an unwritten rule: pay it forward by becoming an angel investor yourself and reinvesting money into the ecosystem.

Helleraker pointed out that having angel investors is not just about getting that first capital, but it is also about having access to somebody who has made it, somebody like Barna who created Birchbox. They can help you and give you good advice on how to resolve the hurdles that will come your way as a founder. This knowledge adds a tremendous amount of value.

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN NORWAY AND THE US

These two investors have quite a good grasp on this subject, considering that Helleraker is Norwegian and Barna is married to a Norwegian. Helleraker says that whenever he meets with Norwegian founders it is like he has to pull the information out from them. Americans on the other hand, are a lot more vocal about what they know and what they are trying to build.

Barna pointed to her own personal experience after college, where a lot of her fellow students would look towards entrepreneurship at an early age. In Norway, it seems like people prefer to build their own company at a later stage in life—often after they have families and have overarching responsibilities. She urges young people to think about the possibility to become a founder early on, when you have the possibility to take risks for a few years. Especially in Norway where education is free, and young people do not kick off their career with debts like many students in the US. Imagine where you can be fifteen years from now if you are willing to take risks when you are young and free to do so.

Innovation, Policy, and Politics

The second session was a conversation between former Obama administration official Elana Berkowitz, the Founding Partner of Springbank Collective and Julie Samuels, the Executive Director of Tech: NYC. These women focus especially on the trends within tech, the difference between cities regarding the tech industry, and the intersection of tech and policy.

Berkowitz explained that today there is quite the competition between cites to attract young tech people.

Moving forward, both women agreed that if you get the talent—the raw tech people—businesses will follow. Samuels added that despite this competition, there has not been a talent drain from NYC. Local tech companies are getting involved in rebuilding the city and in non-profit organizations helping New Yorkers. One of the explanations she offered, was that New York tech workers are first and foremost New Yorkers, not tech workers—in comparison with Silicon Valley.

Despite the pandemic, businesses are doubling down in cities like New York, which Samuels believes shows that the business eco-system in the city is functioning well.

THE FUTURE

During her time in the Obama administration, Berkowitz witnessed how the tech industry went from being an underdog to being the biggest dog. The industry is constantly changing, and today it is imperative to think about the social impact. Samuels believes that property technology and building will be in the forefront the coming years.

All in all, it will be a quest to hire the best talent with new business models that can capture the next generation.

Advising Philanthropists

The third and last session was with Tara Abrahams, Managing Director of Arabella Advisors, a woman with an extensive background within non-profits, specifically relating to gender equality for girls and women. Being a part of the project and film Girl Rising, she has been galvanizing people around the world to get involved in helping girls to pursue their education.

Today, she is the Managing director of Arabella Advisors, a philanthropical advisory firm that supports the needs of philanthropists and founders. Arabella was created fifteen years ago, with Bill and Melinda Gates as some of the initial philanthropists investing through the company. Arabella Advisors helps philanthropists to channel their capital towards the impact that they wish to have in the world. Previously, traditional philanthropy has been directed toward institutions such as the Opera or the Ballet, and although these are important traditions in the American society, the new generation—especially the millennial and adjacent generations—are searching to align their investments with social justice and gender equality.

Read more about Abrahams projects:

Girl Rising

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