By Lauren Keyson and Sarah Grieco
Two NYC tech organizations joined forces and are now one giant 60,000-member legally merged non-profit. This means that the NY Tech Council and NY Tech Meetup are now one. The name of this new organization is the NY Tech Alliance: Jessica Lawrence Quinn is the new CEO and Erik Grimmelman is the new president and it has a new set of bylaws. They felt that coming together was obviously the right thing to do. But it was complex.
One of the most difficult parts of merging was trying to make everyone comfortable, and making sure they all benefitted equally. For NYTech, this meant their organization would be much bigger and they could specialize in policy work. On the NYTM side, this meant they were able to do more work on the community side answering such questions as, “How does tech impact the broader community in NYC? Do we have enough diversity? What are we doing to support female entrepreneurs as well as entrepreneurs of color — that type of thing.” And then came the paperwork.
Jessica Lawrence: The stack of paperwork for the Attorney General was staggering. I think it’s fairly uncommon that two nonprofits merge, although I’ve been working in nonprofits my entire life and I’ve always felt more should look at merging. You see a lot of organizations doing the exact same thing and then competing for the same resources and duplicating efforts in some ways in terms of the staff reviewing. That was a drive for us too. It was kind of like, “why are we running two organizations with the exact same mission?”
I’ve always been interested in the diversity issue and very interested in how tech has an impact on the community in general. I think there’s a lot of focus on growing tech as an industry. But I also think it’s important to have a focus on the public interest aspect of it. I got involved through my initial experience in the nonprofit world where I was working at the Girl Scouts. I started out doing fundraising right after college and then became the CEO of The Girl Scout Council of California.
Erik Grimmelman: For me, I’ve had an interest in the “What does it mean? How does it impact society?” But I’ve come at it a little differently. I’m more of a part of the policy aspect. In 1991, I was the internet strategist for AT&T. The Internet was run by the National Science Foundation and you weren’t allowed to do any commerce; you weren’t even allowed to connect unless you were a university. It was clear that it wasn’t going to be the long-term model.
One of the assignments I took on was to work the policy issues in Washington. We actually worked with Al Gore and his staff and in essence, we privatized the internet. Through the New York Technology Council, we’ve been doing policy at least the last three or four years. I’ve been going to Washington D.C. regularly and talking to different representatives then issuing policy statements. I was asked what the mayor should do, and at a high level it’s four things: 1) Be a cheerleader. Tell the world that NY Tech is great. 2) Look at things that the tech industry needed, including broadband connectivity, along with things all other workers need such as safe streets, good transportation, good schools. 3) Then there’s the workforce issue — there is a talent shortage. How do we get more people? You have to start early; you have to start STEM (Science Technology Engineering Math).
A lot of these are very long-term propositions such as putting computers and computer science in all of the classrooms. It’s going to take a generation for that to really have a big impact. 4) Don’t get in the way of innovation just because there’s an old way of doing it that doesn’t have an incumbent face — don’t put up roadblocks.
For example, at the time there was Uber and Airbnb. We weren’t saying don’t regulate them. Instead do it thoughtfully and don’t have a knee-jerk reaction. That’s a very long conversation as to what the appropriate regulation of those industries is. I think that now we’re in a period of rapid change.
So, things are moving forward. We’ve got the subway wireless, the kiosks on the street. As a measure of how things changed in the last three years, the cheerleading is less important now. Bloomberg did a lot of cheerleading for tech and it was really important. And he loved doing it! The world needed to know that NY was real in tech. He told the world and he also told New York. He built up the self-confidence here.