“Small, authentic, powerful. That’s Brooklyn as a brand,” said Jay Lee to a sea of overly cool entrepreneurs gathered last night at Williamsburg’s Brooklyn Brewery. As the founder of hyperlocal crowdfunding platform Smallknot, he ought to know.
The crowd of Brooklyn techies was around a hundred strong for the inaugural Northside Innovation Meetup, organized by Northside Media Group and sponsored in part by the Observer Media Group, to discuss what being in Brooklyn actually meant for innovation. Scott Stedman, CEO of Northside, said, “Brooklyn is an adjective.” J.B. Osborne of Red Antler said, “Being in Brooklyn speaks for us.” And Mr. Lee reminded us that “it’s okay to be small in Brooklyn.”
And that’s about as concrete a definition of “Brooklynness” as we got.
One major issue for all startups, wherever they are, is that of scale, pointed out Betabeat’s own Kelly Faircloth in the panel discussion with Mr. Stedman; Jessie Arrington, cofounder of Workshop; Brooklyn Brewery’s Steve Hindy; and Charlie O’Donnell of Brooklyn Bridge Ventures. Can startups stay true to their “think small” roots as they scale?
Ms. Arrington wasn’t concerned. She hopes that, in Brooklyn at least, a startup’s success won’t be judged by its size, but rather by the value of its product and whether or not the creative minds behind it are doing what they love.
But sitting in Brooklyn Brewery, the smell of Mabel’s pulled pork wafting through the crowd, it was hard not to take Mr. Hindy’s story as the ultimate example of a Brooklyn business being awesome on its own terms and letting the rest of the world figure that out. Which, of course, they did: Mr. Hindy said the Brewery is expanding into Sweden, Berlin, and Korea, a long way from its small-time, homebrew origins.
Ron Vogl, a software product manager in the audience, said he was particularly inspired by Mr. Hindey’s stories of building his business from the ground up, step by step, rather then depending on the “suspended reality” of the venture-backed startup world for an explosion of success.
Maker’s Row cofounder Tanya Menendez, on the other hand, was much more heartwarming about the whole thing. “Brooklyn is really community based, and it’s taught us to create a company that is really community based too,” she said. Due in part to that community spirit, Maker’s Row was created to connect designers with local manufacturers they might not have otherwise contacted, but who are just right for the job. “We walk around DUMBO and we see familiar faces, we see neighborhood dogs,” said Ms. Menendez.
“We want to create a platform that mirrors that online so people can see familiar faces, reach out and be comfortable.” D’aww.