Whenever I tell someone who doesn’t live in New York City that I work for a hardware startup, I am generally met with incredulity. “How do you have enough space for that?” I often hear. “That must be incredibly expensive” is a common refrain. Entrepreneurs living outside of New York City may assume that starting a tech company that actually makes things in a city known for finance, fashion, and advertising would be a disaster--especially so far away from the venture capital epicenter of Silicon Valley. But in the past seven years, the city has become dramatically friendlier to hardware startups like ours. Here's a look at a few reasons why NYC is a great city to build a hardware startup.
1) We have a thriving hardware community
New York City is home to many design, tech, and startup meetups, but two of the most attended are focused purely on hardware. Hardware Startup Meetup and Hardwired NYC both have over 4,000 members a piece and meet monthly, attracting presenters from top companies from around the world. Other popular hardware focused meetups, such as IoT Central or the Inventors Association of Manhattan also meet monthly, and there are hundreds of other meetups for hobbyists, artists, and entrepreneurs interested in hardware. Of course there are also the really big community events: New York Tech Meetup, the largest Meetup in the world, and TechCrunch Disrupt NYC.
Supporting the community are some of the biggest names in tech news, including Engadget, Gizmodo, and Popular Science, and companies that provide access to equipment and office space for entrepreneurs and startups. Manhattan is home to WeWork, the world’s largest manager of co-working spaces. They have 38 locations in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens and their Soho location in Lower Manhattan has been the host of Hardwired NYC since 2015. WeWork is the largest player in the ocean of other great co-working providers in New York’s five boroughs. Bond Collective has multiple locations throughout the city, as does The Yard (also based here), and there are hundreds of smaller spaces throughout the city. Here’s full list of NYC coworking spaces from the New Yorker.
NewLab, a coworking space for companies that build tangible things opened at the end of 2016 and is now home to startups, agencies, and established companies like Honeybee Robotics. Before NewLab, Brooklyn had NYC Resistor (which Makerbot was born out of), Manhattan had Hack Manhattan, and Staten Island had Makerspace. These bastions of hardware in the concrete jungle still offer classes and access to fabrication tools like welders, laser cutters, and CNC. And that’s just scratching the surface of hardware-friendly work spaces and communities. The car company Mini founded A/D/O, a creative space in the Greenpoint neighborhood of Brooklyn that host workshops, a design academy, and shared wood and metal fabrication workspaces. SuperSmith is another coworking/makerspace hybrid in Red Hook with an impressive roster of members ranging from craftsman woodworkers to product designers, while still-in-development Powerhouse Workshop in Gowanus, Brooklyn will be a full-fledged industrial fabrication space when it opens in 2020.
2) CUNY’s Advance Science Research Center (ASRC)
CUNY stands for “City University of New York,” one of the largest networks of colleges in the country. The CUNY system consists of 24 colleges that range from law schools to the New York College of Technology. In 2015 they opened the ASRC on the City College of New York campus in Harlem, Manhattan. This new facility is dedicated to research and fabrication services for the academic and business communities of New York City. The center’s facilities range from photonics spectroscopy to nanofabrication, providing a range of services for theoretical and applied research and development in biology, physics, and nanoscience.
Of particular interest to those of us in hardware is the ASRC’s NanoFabrication facility, or NanoFab for short. The NanoFab includes a 5,000 sq ft clean room that is among the most advanced clean room facilities on the East Coast. Before it opened, companies and researchers in New York City had to travel to Philadelphia or Boston to access similar equipment and workspaces. The ASRC’s NanoFab brings state-of-the-art equipment for developing nano and micro-scale devices within city limits . Capabilities include backend research, deposition, etching, lithography, and thermal processing. A full equipment list can be found on their website here. Best of all, anyone can use the equipment after registering and completing a mandatory safety class.
3) NYC is a 3D printing mecca
Every hardware startup needs to print an enclosure at some point. We’re lucky to have two of the world’s top services for on-demand 3D printing in the same city, and one of the greatest densities of open-access 3D printers in the world. You have probably heard of Shapeways, the 3D printing service and marketplace. They print anything and everything in a variety of materials, and their headquarters is in Manhattan (with a fabrication studio in Queens). Another major player in 3D printing is 3D Hubs, the world’s largest networks of 3D printers, with their largest printer base right here in New York City. This company provides access to local printers with excellent turnaround times.
In addition to heavyweights like Shapeways and 3D Hubs, New York City is home to hundreds of 3D printing, laser, and CNC shops that can help with projects big and small. For example, Voodoo Manufacturing was started by Makerbot alumni, and NY Designs in Queens has been providing prototyping services and memberships in addition to their incubator since 2005. New York is also home to Inside 3D Printing Conference and Expo, the largest 3D printing event in the world.
4) Futureworks NYC
In late 2015, the Mayor's Office announced a 10 point Industrial Action Plan to modernize the City’s industrial sector, as well as $115 million in new city funding for industrial projects. Out of this announcement sprang Futureworks NYC, a platform created by New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to provide access to shared resources for the city’s manufacturing community. From an incubator to prototyping facilities, Futureworks NYC seems poised to become a key resource for NYC-based hardware companies. Here’s what they are working on for 2017:
- Futureworks Incubator: Building off of the success of New York’s Next Top Makers, the Futureworks Incubator supports hardware startups and entrepreneurs through mentorship, workshops, and access to local manufacturing and investment.
- Futureworks Shops: Possibly Futureworks’ most exciting project, Futureworks Shops is a network of prototyping and production spaces for artists, makers, and startups. It will launch later this spring.
- Futureworks Business Extension Services: resources and a network of service providers to help hardware startups find funding, fabrication assistance, talent, etc.
- Advance Manufacturing Center (Techshop): In an effort to bolster the five borough’s access to advanced fabrication equipment, the city has granted Techshop, the world’s largest network of open access workshops, a 15,000 sq ft space in the Brooklyn Army Terminal. Techshop already operates facilities in 12 locations around the world and plans to open their Brooklyn location this fall.
5) NYC has some of the best schools in the country
Let’s start with Keen Home’s alma mater: New York University. It’s one of the most sought after and recognizable names in higher education, and the university has been investing heavily in entrepreneurship and technology focused programming. Their interactive media department at the Tisch School for the Arts, the Interactive Telecommunications Program (ITP), has been called “the city’s secret tech weapon” and the NYU Tandon School of Engineering in Brooklyn is the second oldest private science and engineering schools in the country (formerly known as Polytechnic University and then NYU Polytechnic). The university is currently investing $500 million in the new Tandon campus and surrounding area to transform it into a media, arts, and technology hub.
Further uptown in Manhattan is Columbia University, the oldest university in New York State and one of the eight prestigious Ivy League universities. The university has a rich history of science and engineering research, with it’s Fu Foundations ranking as one of the top 15 engineering schools in the country. In recent years, Columbia founded their own makerspace and opened a startup lab in Lower Manhattan.
New York City is also home to some of the nation’s most recognizable and respected arts schools. From Cooper Union, Parsons, and the School of Visual Arts in Manhattan to the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn, these institutions produce world-renowned artists and attracts students and faculty from around the world. You are sure to find a talented designer, fabricator, or engineer at any of these schools.
6) Stellar hardware-focused incubators and accelerators
From Techstars’ Internet of Things accelerator to The Combine from NYC Media Lab, New York City has a rich network of programs focused on bringing early stage hardware startups to market. For example, NYU Tandon has a network of four incubators through their Future Lab initiative with the city. One of Tandon’s incubators is the clean-tech focused Urban Future Lab, which recently partnered with NewLab and startup accelerator Grand Central Tech to launch Urbantech NYC. Urbantech NYC provides startups focused on smart cities and clean tech access to the resources they need to scale.
One of the longest running incubators is the Zahn Innovation Center, a startup incubator, prototyping studio, and hardware community hub based at City College of New York, right across from the ASRC. Since 2013, the Zahn Center has been a focal point for hardware startups in New York City, providing some of the city’s first co-working and prototyping facilities specifically for companies building tangible products. In Keen Home’s early days, our co-founders worked with engineers at the Zahn Center to build the initial prototypes of the Smart Vent.
If wearables are your thing, Manufacture New York is an accelerator and research center focused on wearables and fashion technology. It was born out of New York City’s reputation as one of the world’s most important fashion hubs, and while the center is still under development their accelerator program is about to start its second year.
You can find an extensive list of accelerators and incubators in NYC here.
We can go on and on about why New York City is a great place to start a hardware startup, but you should really see for yourself. After you have explored all of the links in this post, plan a visit to the Big Apple to experience in person what this city has to offer hardware entrepreneurs. Shoot us an email if you do; we’d love to show you around. It won’t take long for you to agree that New York City is the right place for you too.