With a steady growth in the number of startups and companies created in New York City during the last couple of years, Silicon Alley has become a national player in the field of entrepreneurship and technology.
As the City of New York keeps attracting more engineers and entrepreneurs from all over the country with initiatives such as NYC’s Next Idea, NYTECH and Made in NY, other local organizations are also supporting this digital expansion by promoting entrepreneurship within the framework of public education.
Many colleges at the City University of New York have developed their own entrepreneurship curricula to provide support to students passionate about creating their own businesses in a large variety of fields.
“CUNY is very much engaged in promoting entrepreneurship for their students as well as their faculty,” said Myron Wecker, Deputy Director at the CUNY Center for Advanced Technology, a state-funded program that promotes research and development-based collaborations between industries and universities.
Student entrepreneurship has in fact been the focus of initiatives such as the Lawrence N. Field Center for Entrepreneurship at Baruch College and the Queens College Schultzman Center for Entrepreneurship. Other CUNY universities also offer smaller scale degrees to future entrepreneurs who dream of creating their own startups.
But according to Wecker, CUNY has had a slow beginning to foster startups within its academic community, something that private universities such as New York and Columbia, among others, seem much more engaged with.
However, he believes that CUNY can definitely increase its efforts to support students while also keeping the pace of the city’s technological boom.
“CUNY needs to recognize the interest that students now have in the entrepreneurial economy,” said Wecker. “In the past, students studied hard, got a degree and went to work for a big company, but the American economy has changed. Most companies don’t hire people for life anymore, and students coming out of college now know there is another way.”
New York City is now the second leading tech hub in the nation producing an estimated $30 billion in salaries per year, according to the Brooklyn Tech Triangle Coalition, an organization composed of three business improvement groups – the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, the DUMBO Improvement District and the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation, which looks to increase the economic growth of these areas.
With statistics like these, it seems inevitable that public universities evolve while expanding their mission and creating a more friendly student-entrepreneur environment.
A plan to develop an incubator space that will provide offices and resources to student and faculty startups, and which will be located at 125 Street in Manhattan, was included in the CUNY’s “Investing in Our Future” Master Plan for 2012-2016. According to a school official, the center is scheduled to open this summer.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has also said he would collaborate with the City University of New York, to create a two-year Science, Technology, Engineering and Math program to help high school graduates get jobs in the city’s flourishing tech scene.
“I think that what CUNY really needs to do is to bring tech startup management with an emphasis on innovation to non-tech startups,” said Sebastian Restrepo, a Biology and Sociology major at Baruch College, and self-styled emerging entrepreneur. “Not all entrepreneurs have a computer science or a business degree.”
Wecker also thinks that the growing popularity of startups has caused many students to dropout of school.
“Many students see success around them and think, ‘hey, maybe I can create the next Facebook,’” Wecker said. “But don’t forget, these all started by students at universities, and I think that has caught the imagination of people with entrepreneurial skills and ideas.”
Moreover, Wecker believes that many of the programs that CUNY offers can actually help young entrepreneurs to discover if their projects have “merit in the market place.”
“Students have to understand that a vast majority of startup companies fail,” said Wecker. “You don’t want to spend years working on a failed idea, and I think CUNY can provide a collaborative setting where you can learn what really works for you and what not.”