When you walk down the streets of Harlem, you can’t help but notice the beautiful brownstones, the smiling faces, and the wide avenues beckoning strollers.
Harlem sits just north of two of the most desirable neighborhoods on the planet: the Upper East and West Sides of Manhattan. And yet, when people think of Harlem, they often don’t think of the untapped economic opportunity, thriving startups and entrepreneurship.
Harlem is the location of a thriving real-time experiment in proving that the key to economic opportunity is in just that — unlocking opportunity.
Organizations like Cofound Harlem, Silicon Harlem, and others were founded around the simple idea that by providing economic opportunity in the form of supporting local entrepreneurs with a community of resources and support, that the surrounding community can’t help but benefit.
And we know intuitively this must be the case. It just makes sense.
Whether in the form of bringing quality jobs, innovative ways of thinking, creative young talent or even local cafe’s like Astor Row Cafe, which are popping up along Malcolm X Blvd in Harlem today — this rapid development of new startups is promising.
And in a way, this experiment is a microcosm of the broader experiment we need to see nationwide. Whether in communities like Harlem or even former manufacturing towns like Detroit, our communities and the talented people living in them, are in need of revitalization.
Meanwhile, startups are thriving and the know-how and capability to support young entrepreneurs has never been greater.
Infusing these neighborhoods with technologically progressive companies also brings with it a preparedness for the innovative world we live in. Smartphones, drones, and virtual reality are here, and supporting entrepreneurs who appreciate these new technologies brings the local community up to speed with the infusion of this know how. This is supplemented with bootcamps and other hands-on tactical approaches to bringing in outside expertise capable of supporting local talent.
What is stopping this new trend from taking odds nationwide? Might this be the key to economic growth and opportunity in the next decade as we transition to a fully digital economy?
Some might be concerned that startups entering communities could be a cause for concern. We see headlines about people being priced out of neighborhoods all the time. However, by taking an inclusive approach that supports local entrepreneurs and creates local jobs, these community based efforts create organic growth from within neighborhood, not from the outside in. This means the community participates in wealth creation and benefits from it.
Furthermore, by having a community based approach to supporting one another, these new local models also add a network effect of increased support for future entrepreneurs as success breeds success for future businesses. Ensuring that the local community continues to benefit from the commercial successes that come from these efforts seems like a smart way to architect these programs to meet the needs of the community from within.
These efforts are early, but they seem like the arrival of an inevitability. It seems like it is only a matter of time until they become the norm in communities nationwide.
Photo credit: DNAinfo/Gustavo Solis taken at the annual Silicon Harlem Conference
David is an angel investor and advisor to startups in industries ranging from CleanTech to FinTech. He has been an active tweeter and blogger since 2007 and has been quoted in publications like the NY Times and MIT Tech Review. He was named one of the top 55 undiscovered “rockstars” in tech by Business Insider and TechCrunch. David founded Odin River in January 2015.
Thank you for this valuable insight. We need this to grow our urban area!