Reddit cofounder Alexis Ohanian stood at the front of a large room at the Hunters Point Plaza Penthouse in Long Island City, and looked out over the rows of tables set up for various startups based in the borough that, let’s be honest, doesn’t always have the best rep in the city.
“The New York tech community is just starting. There’s so much awesome stuff happening in all of New York City,” he said. “The only issue I’ve got is there’s a lot of it going on right around here.” He pointed to a map of Manhattan.
Speakers and guests alike welcomed the idea of Queens becoming a new hub for digital startup companies at last night’s inaugural Queens Tech Meetup. The crowded venue, which featured a rooftop deck looking out over an impressive view of the Manhattan skyline, attracted young professionals in the tech field who exchanged business cards constantly throughout the night.
Elias Roman, co-founder of Songza, a streaming music play list service, was equally enthused about the budding tech community in Queens. “After we got our first company funded, we moved the whole team to Long Island City and we could not be happier,” he said.
The Queens Tech Meetup is hosted by Coalition for Queens, a nonprofit focused on developing the local tech community. New York’s tech startups are concentrated heavily in Union Square and Flatiron, with Facebook and Twitter on the Upper West Side and a few hip hubs in Soho (Thrillist, Kickstarter), the West Village (Betaworks) and even Chinatown, where a few companies are clustered in a ratty building they call the “Silicon Sweatshop.” Brooklyn has got the startup bug, with hubs popping up in Dumbo and Williamsburg. Even Hoboken is making a name for itself with the New Jersey Tech Meetup, which now has almost 2,000 members.
Long Island City, primarily known for the Citi tower and, according to Wikipedia, it’s “rapid and ongoing gentrification,” is not generally thought of as a tech startup scene.
“This is a great location, I don’t know why this hasn’t become a more popular area,” said Michael Hillmeyer, an Ozone Park, Queens native and technology software developer. He came to the event because it seemed interesting and he has faith in the potential for Queens, and especially Long Island City, to build up in the next few years.
Marleen Vogelaar, COO of Shapeways, a 3-D printing company that is in the process of moving its production site to Long Island City, also presented, bringing along some 3D-printed jewelry pieces, a tiny espresso cup and an iPhone case.“When I came off the subway here from Manhattan for the first time, I just gravitated to Long Island City,” she said. “It’s a good fit for our company; it’s both an industrial and artistic community, it suits us.”
Brief Q&A sessions with each of the presenters followed the presentations. The remainder of the night consisted of demos by each of the companies that attended the meetup.
Jukay Hsu, founder of Coalition for Queens and the QTM event planner said he was happy with the event’s first turnout; he said he had to change the original venue of the event in order to fit more people. But he still hopes to see a bigger presence in the future.
“This is our first event and we had to expand our guest list multiple times,” he said. “That’s a really great indication of how big this can get and I hope this meetup continues to grow as we host more of them.”