As you travel along the path of the number four-subway train in New York City, you pass through neighborhoods that are world famous. Heading west from Brooklyn you make your way past Wall Street, Union Square, Grand Central, Hunter College, and eventually all the way past 125th Street in Harlem. Not many New Yorkers make it past the Upper East Side. If you stay on this train for another fifteen minutes you will find yourself in Manhattan's tougher older brother – the Bronx.
Just like Broadway and Williamsburg, the Bronx is more than a borough. It's a brand known across the globe. This borough is most famously known as the home of Yankee Stadium. Icons including Fordham University and the elite Riverdale neighborhood are also located in this borough. Nevertheless, the Bronx is known as one of the most dangerous urban areas in the world, understandably so, since it is also the poorest congressional district in the United States.
Mostly composed of minorities and immigrants, the average annual income is just under $35,000 with nearly 30% of residents living below the poverty line. These staggering facts demonstrate how the Bronx has become the forgotten borough.
If you wander throughout the long Bronx streets you will come across an incredible melting pot of people soliciting outdoors, low-income housing filled with squatters and decrepit graffiti, and a distinct smell you try to pretend is only marijuana. This area seems eerily similar to the Lower East Side of Manhattan in the 1960's and of many parts of Brooklyn a decade later. The latter neighborhoods are now home to some of the most expensive real estate in the world, yet the Bronx still maintains its derelict means. And yet, just standing on East Fordham Road gives you a sense of potential in this little thought about metropolis.
From the closest points in Manhattan's surrounding suburbs: Brooklyn, Long Island, Connecticut, and New Jersey, it takes a least forty-five minutes to commute to Grand Central Station – if you're lucky. From the Bronx you can arrive in just fifteen. The Bronx is also easily accessible from all other suburbs, something surprising when you realize how much Long Islanders hate to venture to New Jersey, and no one from Connecticut has ever probably even stepped foot in Brooklyn. The Bronx is the real Mecca in New York.
As an outsider we see the “potential” in doing business in the Bronx. But Bronxites realized this fact decades ago and have turned Fordham Road into one of the top 10 busiest shopping corridors in the world. Retail can benefit immensely from the foot traffic and spending power of residents. Every aspect of business can benefit from the Bronx. With 1.4 million residents, the Bronx is on par with the population with Manhattan, but it was twice the land area. This makes warehouses and office lofts and affordable possibility – especially for young startup companies.
The Bronx has already begun to attract young entrepreneurial talent. Fordham University is one of the top universities in the country and produces remarkable students from its top ranked programs, particularly from the Gabelli School of Business. Sunshine NYC has opened the first co-working space in the Bronx and Fordham has followed suit with the Fordham Foundry, which provides remarkably cheap work spaces for entrepreneurs in a modern building you would think belong in Midtown.
Young companies like Scenyc, Inc. and the Concourse Fund have already taken advantage of the many resources that the Bronx offers and have tailored their business models to give back to their neighborhood.
This is the attitude that is unique to the Bronx. Although it is one of the largest cities in the world, it still maintains a small community atmosphere. Unlike most Manhattan and Brooklyn denizens, Bronx residents think about how they can improve their community, and not just how they can suckle its benefits. This sense of community is the key step in being able to invigorate the Bronx.
On October 16th, 2013, the Fordham University Center for Digital Transformation hosted their 2nd annual Summit on Technology Innovation and Start Ups in the Bronx, which brought together influential community members who represented companies such as: Accenture, Google, Junior Achievement, Latin Business Today, Mass Ideation, Sofito for Your Soul Media Group, Siri Capital, and Good-B, to discuss the various ways to begin improving the Bronx. Although some referred to the event as the “first step,” it was not. The community has already begun to pursue its remarkable potential and the Fordham University Summit is capable of developing the Bronx into a new startup hub.
There are only a few significant startup cities in the United States. Silicon Valley was the first and is still the leader in this area. New York developed its own “Silicon Alley” in response to this takeover and recently overtook Boston as the number two city for startups. But what sets these cities apart from Chicago, Austin, Miami, or all the others haven't risen to the levels that these three have? There is a unique combination of factors that are needed to cultivate a vibrant startup community.
Starting from the grassroots, all these cities have liberal leanings that promote risk taking and entrepreneurialism, which is later developed in the numerous elite universities that they all house. These cities also have the money; whether it comes from banking, private equity, venture capital, generous government grants, tax-breaks, or even loans. And most importantly, there is a customer market with unmet needs. The Bronx has all these elements.
The startup industry is often heard discussing the next big “disruption.” Unfortunately, they usually follow up by creating a food ordering app or image editor. The Bronx is where entrepreneurs can think big. Where office space is a fraction of the cost of what it is just one hundred blocks south, this area is economically welcoming to young companies. The market is eager for innovation, not just for typical “one-percent” problems, but instead towards meaningful work in healthcare, education, and housing. In the busiest city in the world, the Bronx may be the last hidden gem in New York.
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