With all of this news about Brooklyn's tech scene, I've been thinking a lot about what made the NYC innovation community grow so quickly. Talk of buildings and incubators reminded me of the story of Building 20 from "Where Good Ideas Come From".
"...Legendary Building 20, the temporary structure built during World War II that somehow managed to last fifty-five years, in part because it had an extraordinary track record for cultivating both breakthrough ideas and organizations like Noam Chomsky’s linguistics department, Bose Acoustics, and the Digital Equipment Corporation... There were walls and doors and offices, as in most academic buildings. But the structure’s temporary origins—it was originally built with the expectation that it would be torn down after five years—meant that those structures could be reconfigured with little bureaucratic fuss..."
One of the key features of the building was its ability to allow ideas bounce around inside of it...
"...Building 20...is a space that sees information spillover as a feature, not a flaw. It is designed to leak. In this, it shares some core values with the liquid networks of dense cities. ...with that increased fluidity—all those new ideas jostling against each other, in rooms expanding and contracting to meet their needs—it’s not hard to imagine the space generating a reliable flow of innovation in the years to come. Exploring the adjacent possible can be as simple as opening a door. But sometimes you need to move a wall."
That's a really interesting concept--and I think it's one of the very reasons why the NYC ecosystem has thrived. The "meetup" culture of NYC, where there are three great educational events to go to every night is how the community bootstrapped itself. The entrepreneurs in New York City didn't learn how to run companies from their long histories at Amazon or Google--they learned from each other. They've been learning from blogs, twitter, mailing lists, and by discovering people at events who are willing to grab coffee and do a data dump to each other of things they've learned.
NYC's resurgence wasn't driven by the presence of money--that element is key but it was pushed by something else. It's not an accident that VC firms started converging on NYC in full force when the social media buzz about Foursquare back in '09 "leaked" the info that there was something amazing going on in this community.
In the same vein, you can put money into an ecosystem but if no one knows about it, it doesn't matter. That's why prominent VC bloggers who came here and started here seemed to leapfrog existing capital that was here in terms of presence in the ecosystem.
For years and years, there was plenty of non-VC money in New York City--I mean, this is New York, right--but that money wasn't building the ecosystem. That's because investors who are fully engaged in the business of investing in startups on a fulltime bases are information brokers. They are stakeholders in the ecosystem who want to spread the word about best practices, potential areas of interest, and about the successes of their portfolio companies. Investors do more to tout and grow their own ecosystem than any other player--because of their direct and long term financial stake. VCs add knowledge, connection, and PR moreso than they add money that wasn't there before.
What's key if Brooklyn is going to become a huge tech hub is that awareness and connection are critical. We need more Brooklyn meetups, native media hubs like Dumbo NYC, and more connectedness between important stakeholders like NYU Poly, and the community. Information needs to spill and flow if we're going to make some serious primordial soup for the growth of innovation.