Conference Reveals Economic ‘Disruptors’ Needs and Economic Impact

Real Estate In-Depth | August 2017

HVEDC President and CEO Laurence Gottlieb, second from left, moderated the panel discussion at the “Disrupted: The Future of the Hudson Valley Economy” event held at SUNY New Paltz.

NEW PALTZ—Earlier this summer, the Hudson Valley Economic Development Corp. staged what can only be described as a unique and in retrospect perhaps a groundbreaking and definitely disruptive event.

HVEDC President and CEO Laurence Gottlieb, sans his usual business attire, led the event entitled “Disrupted: The Future of the Hudson Valley Economy” dressed in a polo shirt, sneakers and ball cap. The panelists, all online entrepreneurs and executives with emerging tech-related ventures, also in casual attire, helped Gottlieb explore the needs of emerging tech companies, many of which employ “alternative work arrangements,” such as engaging free-lance, on-call, temporary workers or contractors.

Gottlieb related that in the agency’s conversations with executives in clusters such as biotech, food and beverage, 3-D printing, biotech and healthcare, HVEDC has identified some emerging technological, demographic and workforce trends that must be addressed if the region is to embrace the new economy.

According to research by economic professors from Harvard and Princeton universities, 94% of the job growth over the past 10 years has occurred in alternative work environments. Pew Research recently calculated that nearly 72% of all Americans have used some type of shared or on-demand online service.

“All of these trends are starting to reshape everything we do in the Hudson Valley,” Gottlieb said at the event held at SUNY New Paltz. He added that changing economic forces and disruptive technologies will force us to “revisit how we tax, how we educate, how we birth, how we bury. Everything is literally changing around us and the question is are we prepared?”

The keynote speaker at the event, part of HVEDC’s Thought Leader Master Series, was Dennis Crowley, co-founder of Foursquare an online intelligence technology firm that offers hosted technology and data to build context-smart, location-aware apps. Foursquare technology powers location data for Apple, Uber, Twitter, Microsoft, Samsung and 100,000 other developers.

More than 50 million people use Foursquare City Guide and Foursquare Swarm apps each month, across desktop, mobile web, and mobile apps. The firm recently surpassed more than 10 billion check-ins, and sees an average of 9 million check-ins a day on Foursquare Swarm.

He told the more than 200 attendees at the conference that one of the chief problems his firm and others like Foursquare have is hiring enough qualified workers. Crowley then revealed that his firm is contemplating opening an office in the Hudson Valley.

“So, we have put together a job description for software engineers living in the Hudson Valley. We’re going to start circulating that job description today, tomorrow, the next couple of weeks,” said Crowley. “We’re going to see if we get a bunch of qualified candidates to apply for it. If we can find four or five engineers that fit the qualifications we’re looking for, and who raise their hands and say ‘I want to work in the Foursquare Hudson Valley office, then we will try to open an office up here.”

Foursquare employs more than 200 people between its headquarters in New York and offices in San Francisco, Chicago and Los Angeles, and teams in Atlanta, Detroit, London and Singapore.

Crowley is also founder of Kingston Stockade Football Club, a semi-professional soccer team out of Kingston, NY that competes in the 4th division of the US Soccer Pyramid.

He began the discussion talking about the serendipitous ways in which “disruptive technologies” such as Foursquare’s are born of necessity and demand, and grow into services that people need and will continue to use. He recalled the infancy of Foursquare, which began as an application designed so Crowley and his friends could most simply and efficiently navigate their new post-college hometown of Manhattan. Figuring his need might be a universal one, Crowley, the executive chairman of Foursquare, quickly turned Foursquare into a consumer app whose growth was fueled by in-app advertising.

“The general rule with a lot of this stuff is just build something that you like, you build something that your friends like, and there’s a pretty good chance that their friends will also like it and maybe their friends too, and that’s how this stuff grows and grows organically,” said Crowley.

Prior to Foursquare, Crowley founded Dodgeball, one of the first location-based mobile social services (acquired by Google in 2005) and helped to build early location-based games PacManhattan and Conqwest. He has been named one of Fortune’s “40 Under 40” and is a member of Vanity Fair’s “New Establishment.” He is currently an adjunct professor at New York University’s Interactive Telecommunications Program.

“Foursquare offers some of the digital world’s most powerful analytical and predictive tools, so bringing Dennis Crowley’s industry-leading knowledge and experience within the new, disruptive economy to a Hudson Valley audience of business, community and academic leaders is a proud moment for our organization,” said Laurence P. Gottlieb, president and CEO of HVEDC. “The positive impact from today’s event will be felt throughout the region for quite some time, as just one conversation with HVEDC may have spurred an unexpected investment.”

The event also featured the Disruptors Panel – a panel of regional tech and gig-economy experts – which also took a deep dive into developments in technology, demographics and the workforce. The panel consisted of Garnet Heraman, founder of Anvil Venture Partners and co-founder of Karina Dresses; Melanie Axelrod, graphic designer; Kale Kaposhilin, co-founder of Hudson Valley Tech Meetup and co-founder of Evolving Media and Moonfarmer; and Johnny LeHane, co-founder of CLUBWAKA and Managing Partner of Hudson Valley Startup Fund.

The panel shared its experiences operating in an increasingly tech-driven marketplace. The gig economy has created new opportunities for people to work in the environment of their choice, on the projects that speak to their values. Simultaneously, this new economy has opened up opportunities for more traditional companies to access a broader talent pool, using freelancers to meet specific needs.

Johnny LeHane, co-founder of CLUBWAKA and managing partner of Hudson Valley Startup Fund, is a Hudson Valley native who attended college for engineering and imagined landing one of the nine to five jobs in the traditional economy, only to find out they no longer existed.

“Where does the Hudson Valley go from here?” LeHane asked. “We have great starts in hubs like banking, and food and medical. I hope to see companies launch here, and have the core of their team here, but rely on that gig economy to employ people here and across the country.”

Hudson Valley Startup Fund is a $1.125-million member-managed seed capital fund, launched in 2015. It has committed over $250,000 in two investments and continues to identify local scalable companies ready for investment. CLUBWAKA is a nationwide social sports club serving 50,000-plus customers annually in more than 40 cities across the U.S. Since its launch in 1998 as The World Adult Kickball Association (WAKA), LeHane has led the development of technology platforms, nationwide franchising programs, logistics and digital marketing programs and partnerships with global brands.

“If we want to make a successful tech economy here in the Hudson Valley, we have to really embrace the essence of the Hudson Valley and the DNA of the people who are here,” said Kaposhilin. “That has a lot to do with agriculture, community values and social justice. The people we employ care about these issues. They want to work for a company that’s creating meaning in the world; they want their efforts to have meaning.”

Kaposhilin has 20 years of experience in most forms of technical and creative media production. Evolving Media Network is a team of web developers and creative media professionals in the Hudson Valley. They have been providing creative services and producing web applications, mobile apps and websites for more than 10 years from their headquarters in Kingston. He is also a co-founder of Hudson Valley Tech Meetup and Catskills Conf as well as one of the organizers of the Kingston Stockade FC.

“The great thing about the Hudson Valley is its quality of life,” said Axelrod. “With the Internet economy, it’s possible to do anything here, locally.”

Axelrod graduated from SUNY New Paltz in 2016 with a bachelor of fine arts in graphic design and has experienced a wide range of work environments, from old-school corporate to remote start-up. Axelrod found most of the environments lacked appeal and is now working successfully as a full-time freelancer.

“Everything I’ve done between 1996 and now pretty much proves that disruption has become the norm,” said Heraman. “A lot of it has to do with basically taking disruption as the new norm and really understanding how things are going to get out to the marketplace by partnering with the right people, especially corporations.”

Heraman is a seasoned investor with 25 years of experience in early stage ventures, business strategy and brand development in the U.S. and abroad (Canada, United Kingdom and India). Anvil Venture Partners in New York City provides capital and consulting services to help startups accelerate from seed to scaling. Heraman is investor in residence at the Hudson Valley Advanced Manufacturing Center Business Build Program at SUNY New Paltz. He is also co-owner of Karina Dresses, a Hudson Valley ecommerce company. Heraman is an angel investor, board member or venture advisor with numerous successful startups including: Dynepic, IOKids, MetroButler, Urban Trials, StrongArm Technologies and Biba Ventures.