New York City Assemblyman Michael Blake speaks to the crowd at the Future of Work Summit in the Bronx, NY.
By Andrew Caringi
Another new effort to fund Bronx-based startups was announced by Assemblyman Michael Blake today, this time in the form of a relatively small cash award program. Bronx-based startups will now have the chance to win a $50,000 award, a small number when considering the costs of doing business in New York City.
Speaking to a crowd of around 200 people at the Future of Work in the Bronx Summit, Assemblyman Blake touted the award as being “a huge financial commitment to the Bronx.”
The Libra Group, an international business group primarily dealing in real estate and oversees shipping, will be offering the award to one Bronx-based startup for the next ten years, totaling a $500,000 commitment, a number that was shouted by Assemblyman Blake at the Bronx School for Law, Development and Justice.
“It is better than nothing,” says Jerelyn Rodriguez, co-founder of The Knowledge House, a Bronx-based startup that offers courses in coding and tech-related skills. “Now is that going to move the needle and create sustainable startups that hire a lot of people? Probably not.”
Marking the biggest announcement of the night, the enthusiasm by Assemblyman Blake regarding this new award points to how far-behind the Bronx really is in the technology sector.
While the U.S. Department of Commerce projecting 1.4 million jobs in the technology sector by 2020, only six percent of the sector’s current workforce is made up of Blacks and Latinos.
“It’s not really the center of technology yet,” says Nancy Carin, Executive Director of the Business Outreach Center Network. “Areas of the Bronx don’t really have good access to high speed Internet and that impairs and inhibits business growth in the technology sector.”
Many of the problems that additional funding could correct are within the education of young Bronxites.
“Even in schools today we’re not teaching students 21st century skills,” says Rodriguez. “There’s still a huge digital divide.”
Sergio Garcia, 22, was born and raised in the Hunt Point section of the Bronx. Despite not attending college, Garcia has managed to create a number of video games, one of which, Skies, will be available on the Xbox One store soon.
“My high school really didn’t care,” says Garcia. “I didn’t have the luxury to go to any programs that taught coding or how to make video games. I had to teach myself in my basement through online forums and videos.”
For young adults like Sergio, actual funding for technology-based programs would help the Bronx close the digital divide that has caused it to lag behind in the city’s emerging technology sector.