If he had his way, Joswell Valdez would work out of the borough that inspired his startup company.
Growing up in the Bronx, Valdez knew many immigrants who regularly sent money to family members back home. So Valdez created sync.cr, a mobile app that allows users to make bitcoin payments via their social media accounts. His app is free, fast, and divorced from traditional banking and currency exchange.
But seeing little capital investment in the Bronx, Valdez decided to commute to a startup lab in DUMBO to work on his app.
“I’m fighting for survival,” Valdez said. “I have to be where the tech hub is.”
The Bronx is home to only 1 percent of tech sector jobs in the city, while Manhattan boasts 83 percent, according to a Center for an Urban Future study released in August. What the borough’s burgeoning tech scene needs now is investment.
Tech employment accounts for 113,000 jobs in New York City and grew by 57 percent or 40,000 jobs from 2007 to 2014, according to a July report by the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. Venture capital investments in the New York Metro area during the second quarter of 2015 increased by roughly 45 percent from the same time last year, totaling more than $2.3 billion. That’s compared to a 14 percent increase in venture capital investments over the same time period in Silicon Valley, according to MoneyTree Report data.
Bronx tech entrepreneurs have yet to see those funds in the northernmost borough.
Negative perceptions about the Bronx have kept investors away, said Joe Carrano, 26, co-founder of The Knowledge House. “A lot of people don’t expect anything to come out of here,” Carrano said.
The Knowledge House provides workshops and classes to young adults looking to learn technology skills. Carrano has witnessed program participants develop myriad startups at BXL Incubator, where The Knowledge House is based. Carrano is waiting for one of those Bronx companies to be funded—to make it big.
“It only takes one, and the perceptions change,” he said.
Carrano and others were looking to change perceptions at an event hosted by #YesWeCode and New York State Assemblyman Michael Blake in the Old Bronx Borough Courthouse on Thursday. MSNBC broadcast a special segment from a room full of local students engrossed by robots and virtual reality headsets. Assemblyman Blake announced several local partnerships and initiatives: a donation of more than 120 computers and tablets from Technology for Families in Need, a summit on “The Future of Work in the Bronx” in October, entrepreneurial training at Boricua College.
Entrepreneur Cris Mercado, 34, said he hoped the media attention would attract venture capital and private equity firms to Bronx startups. “Maybe they’ll hop in an Uber for 30 minutes and see what’s happening here,” he said.
Mercado, who built a college- and career-readiness organization called GrantAnwers in the Bronx, said he prefers the local tech scene to what he views as an “old boys club” in Silicon Alley.
“The neat thing about the Bronx is how welcoming it is,” he said. “There’s this underdog spirit.”