Fresh Tech: Made In NYC

NYC Digital Chief Rachel Haot at NYTM

I can’t remember how many New York Tech Meetups I’ve attended over the last seven or eight years. I keep coming back drawn by the youthful exuberance and ingenuity of these tech-driven entrepreneurs proudly showcasing their creations.

I even had a chance to present from the daunting stage in NYU’s Skirball Auditorium before 850 very discerning New Yorkers. It was for a search engine I helped develop that sought to make PR professionals less spammy in their dealings with journalists. (Lots of good that did.)

The October NYTM opened with a few obligatory announcements. Wilson Sonsini, anyone? It included news of the first city-sponsored “Media Center” opening this month in DUMBO.  It was unveiled October 1st by Mayor Mike, the New York tech scene’s biggest booster (who’ll be sorely missed), at a Brooklyn presser. Here’s the description:

“The Made in NY Media Center by IFP is an incubator space for storytellers, creative professionals and entrepreneurs across multiple disciplines to collaborate and create new business opportunities through education, entrepreneurship and content creation.” 

The city’s Chief Digital Officer Rachel Haot (pronounced hote) then walked the crowd through a major re-design of New York City’s website. New websites typically don’t rise to news-making levels, but’s enhanced functionality and cleaner user interface takes extra pains to empower the city residents to quickly identify and kabash any annoying worms in the Big Apple.

I especially liked the drop-down menu for 311, which gives users the ability to register their complaints about common annoyances peculiar to the city — from potholes to noisy sanitation trucks.

The animated Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian

Next up was Alexis Ohanian, 29, co-founder of Reddit, who AlleyWatch described as follows:

“…outspoken opponent of SOPA and PIPA and just generally a guy making the world suck less, was the first presenter. ‘I spent two years in San Francisco.’ he said. ‘Yes, the burritos were great, but I didn’t see them protesting SOPA and PIPA the way you all did.’ He was there hawking his new book, Without Their Permission.

The New York crowd very much appreciated the favorable comparison to the Bay Area’s tech set – at least with regard to the dimension of social activism, which, not coincidentally, is the subject of Ohanian’s book: “harnessing the power of the web for good.”

Zady co-founder Soraya Darabi

Following Alex was another familiar face from the New York City ech scene; Soraya Darabi whom I first met when she was socializing my then client The New York Times. This was Ms. Darabi’s third appearance in front of this crowd, and it appeared to be her most auspicious.

Zady is a shopping platform that takes the meaning of the word transparency in The Emperor’s New Clothes to an entirely new level. Zady sources its goods from high quality makers, craftsmen and manufacturers and provides its socially conscious buyers everything they would want to know about how their wares came to fruition. While not a discount e-commerce site, Zady began with a grand vision:

“…to combat the fast-fashion craze by providing a platform for only those companies that care about timeless style and solid construction.”

Regular denizens of the NYTM are accustomed to seeing breathless new apps that claim to help the locals navigate the myriad activities in their city. The makers of YPlan were no different, or were they? The app launched in London just 10 months ago and already resides on “15% of all iPhones” in that city.  It distinguishes itself as a “spontaneous, going out app” that only curates events taking place in the next 48 hours. It then makes them simple to book.  It launched in NYC last week.

Here’s a clip of YPlan co-founder Rytas Vitkauskas talking the NYC launch with TechCrunch’s Jordan Crook:

Of course London is a happening town, but New York is a really happening town.  I asked the founders how they expect to reasonably capture a representative and wide-appealing slice of all NYC has to offer. Mr. Vitkauskas admitted that:

“New York is overwhelming,” but “we have a team of curators” that do nothing but this everyday.  “They’re on Twitter. They’re on Instagram. They’re figuring out what’s trending, what’s hot, what’s cool.”

I’ll check it out. We also heard from Skedge, which call s itself an Open Table “for everything else,” and from Cover, which lets users pay their restaurant checks and leave without waiting on a waiter.

I especially enjoyed hearing (and learning) from the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s Julie Samuels, a lawyer with the organization who is fighting patent trolls through an EFF initiative called Trolling Effects.

Finally, at the intersection of thermometers and big data lies a startup called Kinsa, which aspires to create the world’s first real-time map of health to track and stop the spread of disease. It has developed and has begun selling an inexpensive and ergonomically appealing smartphone-connected thermometer that allows users (or their caregivers or parents) to capture and share patients’ real-time health data.

KINSA’s Smart Thermometers

The beauty of this idea will manifest as more of these smart thermometers go into service. The full video of the October 2013 New York Tech Meetup can be accessed here (courtesy of MLBAM).