AlleyWatch, the largest organization focused on NYC Tech, celebrates the work of these 50 individuals that serve as a catalyst for innovation within the NYC Tech ecosystem.
MEET THE 2019 NYC TECH INFLUENCERS
Julie Samuels is the Executive Director of Tech:NYC, the non-profit industry organization that represents NYC's tech industry, as the name suggests. Tech:NYC was launched in 2016 by Samuels along NYC Tech Influencers Past Honorees Fred Wilson and Tim Armstrong, as a member organization, in response to the growing need for the tech community to have its own seat at the table at the intersection of government, policy, and industry.
Samuels is a well-respected speaker and commentator on anything relating to NYC Tech. Serving as an ambassador for the tech community, Samuels and her team are focused on advocating for policy change, fostering the growth of technology companies in New York, promoting inclusion and diversity, attracting talent to the city, and ensuring that New York's tech ecosystem remains vibrant.
Tech:NYC counts over 600 member organizations including AlleyWatch. Since its launch, Tech:NYC has catalyzed the community towards specific initiatives as it relates to the industry in New York Tech, at large, including opposition to Trump's Immigration Ban, DACA reform, Net Neutrality, Computer Science For All, and the elimination of a proposed marketplace tax on e-commerce companies.
Samuels is a trained lawyer with a JD from Vanderbilt and immediately prior to Tech:NYC, she served as the Executive Director of Engine, a non-profit focused on entrepreneurship and advocacy. She actively sits on several advisory boards including the Internet Education Foundation, ABNY's Steering Committee and Comptroller Stringer's Red Tape Commission.
Samuels' work ensures that the interest of the New York Tech Community has an influential voice at the local, state, and national level.
Heather Hartnett is the CEO and Founder Partner of Human Ventures, a venture firm that employs a studio model. Human Ventures is the first female-led startup studio in New York. Since launching in 2015, Human Ventures has backed more than twenty companies that have gone on to raise an additional $80M+ in capital. Investments in the portfolio include Reserve, Clark, Token, Paladin, and a number of stealth companies. Many of these stealth companies are founded by successful, exited entrepreneurs that are drawn to Human's turnkey model. The firm is backed by Beth Comstock, Howard Morgan, and Chris Sacca and in September of 2018, Human Ventures filed for an offering for a $50M fund with the SEC.
Hartnett's roots are in the non-profit world, beginning her career at The David Lynch Foundation, where she currently serves on the Board of Director. Active in helping the community, Hartnett is a mentor to the MIT Startup Studio, the lead for ALLRaise on the East Coast, and on the leadership council for Tech:NYC. Presently, she is going through Kaufman Fellows as a member of Class 23.
New York has been characterized as a hyphen-tech town, catering to a vast array of industries. At the head of the pack in the food space is Jordan Gaspar, Managing Partner at AccelFoods. Previously a corporate attorney, Gaspar forayed into the startup investment world at Golden Seed, where she served as a Managing Director for three years.
Launching in 2013 with Lauren Jupiter, AccelFoods currently has $90M in under management across three funds and has already made investments in over forty companies that include Exo, Nomi, ReThink, Soozy's, and Wandering Bear Coffee. At AccelFoods, Gaspar oversees deal origination and investment execution. In 2018 alone, the firm made over twenty-five companies.
Initially started as an accelerator program, the firm outgrew the accelerator model and under Gaspar's leadership, the firm is the premier name for investment in the packaged food and beverage space. A graduate of Columbia College and JD from Fordham Law, Gaspar was drawn to the food space from her and her partner's personal experience with looking at and understanding what's in food for their own children. Today, they are investing in and supporting the entrepreneurs that are building the next generation of high-growth food an beverage companies.
Bryan Goldberg has become the buyer of choice for distressed media assets. Goldberg, a native of the Valley, cofounded sports media company the Bleacher Report in 2007. After five and a half years, the company was acquired by Turner Broadcasting for a reported $200M. In 2013, completely switching gears, Goldberg launched Bustle, a site initially focused on the culture of millennial women. Goldberg will be the first to admit that he doesn't know much about women's interest but he does understand market, audiences, high-traffic, and contained content production costs.
Bustle has managed to steadily increase its traffic and revenue in an era where most publishers are struggling. It hasn't all happened organically. Goldberg has acquired a number of properties to digital properties to build what has become the Bustle Digital Group by acquiring assets in fire sales when the previous owners could not run the businesses effectively. Elite Daily, Mic, and Zoe Report are three recent examples. The startup has picked up slightly over $50M in funding and is backed by investors that include Time Warner Investments, Social Capital, General Catalyst, and GGV Capital.
Goldberg's unconventional style is working. According to the company, the media group's combined audience exceeds 80M per month and according to the Inc 5000, Bustle did $46.3M in revenue in 2017. Although never one to be in a bidding war, Goldberg is willing to open up his checkbox when he senses opportunities to salvage struggling media businesses. He purchased Gawker.com in bankruptcy for $1.35M and plans to relaunch it later this year. As consolidation in the media business continues, Goldberg has a front row seat.
The internet has fueled a borderless society and this is evident in the startup world where it's becoming increasingly common to build remote teams that are connected through technology across various geographies and time zones. Among the startups in NYC's burgeoning tech landscape, there is fierce competition to attract technical talent as the demand for talent is outpacing the supply not only in the startup world but also in the greater economy. Christina Sass, the cofounder and President of Andela, has a sustainable solution.
Andela identifies and develops Africa's most talented software developers and pairs them with fast-growing companies that are looking to augment their existing teams. "Brilliance is evenly distributed but opportunity is not," said Sass. Leveraging her background building education and employment programs in China, Gaza and the West Bank, and in her home state of Georgia, Andela produces world-class engineering talent through its programs in Lagos, Nairobi, Kampala, and Kigali. And makes the world a bit more connected through opportunity. A key focus for Sass has been to spearhead efforts to promote diversity within the pipeline and she has led female-only recruitment cycles and boot camps as well as launched the "She Loves Code" mentorship program in the African communities where Andela operates.
A graduate of the University of Georgia, Sass has held roles at the YMCA and in international organizations focused on education. After completing her Masters at Tufts in International Law and Diplomacy, she joined the Clinton Global Initiative.
Under Sass's leadership, Andela has now raised a total of $181M in funding and is backed by notable investors that include Al Gore's Generation Investment Management, the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, GV, Salesforce Ventures, and Spark Capital.
A respected expert in the burgeoning field of MarTech, Ryan Urban is the CEO of BounceX, the cloud-based behavioral automation and analytics software company he cofounded in 2012. The team at BounceX has scaled to close to 400 employees with 182 new hires in 2018 alone from its early founder-led beginnings.
Urban launched BounceX after leading customer acquisition at Bonobos. Always an entrepreneur, he founded an e-commerce distribution and liquidation business that he scaled to $5M+ in revenue while completing his MBA at Farleigh Dickinson.
Under Urban's direction and vision for the company, BounceX has obsessively worked to understand and meet the needs of their growing customer base. BounceX counts some of the fastest growing startups and leading brands as clients including Uniqlo, ClassPass, Clarks, Avis, Bouqs, JetBlue, and Comcast. But Urban's commitment isn't only to his customers; he is devoted to investing in the company's growing team and their professional development.
BounceX has been named one of the Best Places to Work in NYC by Crain's and is extremely mindful of creating an inclusionary, diverse, and fair workforce The company recently committed to uphold a number of diversity initiatives including the White House Equal Pay Pledge and the United Nation's Women's Empowerment Pledge.
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New York native Rebecca Kaden is a partner at Union Square Ventures. The Harvard grad and Stanford MBA began her career as a journalist for the Economist. She joined the venture world at Maveron, the consumer only early-stage firm out on the west coast, after completing her MBA. Spending five years at Maveron, Kaden sourced or led investments in several companies including Allbirds, Newsle, Periscope, Earnest, Dia & Co, and WayUp.
In 2017, wanting to return back to her New York roots, Kaden joined Union Square Ventures as its first female partner. At USV, Kaden has already led the firm's investments in personal investment app Stash and Modern Fertility. The firm earlier in 2019 closed two funds ñ a $190M main fund and a $238M fund for growth stage opportunities.
Extremely active in the community, Kaden is a frequent speaker on the consumer space and spearheaded the launch of Female Founders Office Hours in New York with NEA's Dayna Grayson. The office hours are open to female founders that are looking for fundraising tips, advice, mentorship, and support through one-on-time with leading VCs and female founders in the city.
New York has built itself as a direct-to-consumer town ñ headquarters to a number of leading nextgen commerce startups. It only makes sense that sexuality is a part of that conversation. However, pitching predominately male VCs on women's sexual products can prove challenging. Polly Rodriguez, the CEO and Founder of Unbound., has persevered to build a sexual wellness brand that provides discrete shopping options for products that promote a healthy view on women's sexuality without any stigmas.
A graduate of the University of Miami, Rodriguez began her career in politics working on the Hill. After a few years, she moved to New York and worked in corporate strategy at Deloitte. She forayed into the startup world when she joined Y-Combinator backed Grouper, the group dating app. Longing to start her own venture, and thinking back to her bout with cancer, Rodriguez launched Unbound in 2014 seeing there were no options for women to openly discuss their sexuality and sexual needs without any stigmas.
Since launch Unbound has been able to expand its community and introduce its own product line of vibrators, lubricants, and accessories. All this without any paid social acquisition as the Facebook engine does not permit advertising in the sex toy category. Under Rodriguez's leadership, the company has been able to scale and was on target to do $4M in revenue in 2018. In an era where most startups have an unhealthy dependency on Facebook ads, this in and of itself is an accomplishment.
Investors have finally taken notice as well ñboth male and female. The company has closed $3.3M in funding and is backed by 2019 NYC Tech Influencers honoree Elizabeth Galbut's SoGal Ventures, Social Starts, Founders Fund, 2019 NYC Tech Influencers honoree Shan-Lyn Ma, and Brainchild Holdings.
Rodriquez is noted expert on the topic of sexuality, has co-launched the Women in SexTech Alliance with Lidia Bonilla, serves as a mentor to countless women who are launching business that are traditionally overlooked for VCs. Unbound donates a portion of proceeds to non-profits and has supported Planned Parenthood. The company sent Senator Leader Mitch McConnell 275 vibrators when Planned Parenthood was under attack from lawmakers! Rodriguez is on a mission to ensure that the topic of women's sexuality is viewed under a healthy lens by society, starting one vibrator at a time.
In the startup world, we often talk about addressing problems and total addressable markets. As the global population grows, we'll need to produce more food to feed people in the next forty years than has been produced in the last 10,000. Current industrial farming practices will not be able to support this growth sustainably.
Irving Fain, the cofounder and CEO of Bowery, is tackling this problem through its modern farming company that provides fresh food to urban environments.
Operating a number of commercial indoor farms, Bowery has combined software, robotics, AI, and automation to create precision-controlled conditions for its farms that are more ecologically friendly using 95% less water and 100x more productive than the same land footprint of traditional agriculture. The company's produce is currently available in certain locations of Whole Foods, sweetgreen, Dig Inn, and also featured on the menus of some of NYC's finest restaurants. Under Fain's leadership and on a mission to redefine modern agriculture, Bowery is backed by prominent investors including GV, Temasek, General Catalyst, and GGV Capital and has raised $117.5M in funding.
Prior to Bowery Farming, Fain was the cofounder and CEO of CrowdTwist, a venture-backed loyalty marketing engagement platform used by Fortune 100 companies. Crowdtwist was a participant in TechStars' first NYC program in 2011. Before that Fain spent four years at iHeartMedia where he ran product and marketing.
A graduate of Brown University, Fain started his career as an Investment Banker at Citi. Fain serves as an advisor to several NYC startups and served as a mentor to the Cornell Tech Startup Studio.
At AlleyWatch, we see firsthand that New York is the destination of choice for international entrepreneurs looking to scale their operations - much more so, than Silicon Valley. Brian Frumberg serves as a catalyst for this trend. Through VentureOut, Frumberg runs a series of high-impact programs specifically tailored to international founders that are looking to get connected to resources and gain a footing in New York.
Since 2012, VentureOut has accelerated over 850+ companies, holds 25 programs a year, and has produced over 400 events. Focusing on attracting the best international entrepreneurs across both verticals and geographies, participants in the programs have gone on to raise over $1B in funding with many of the businesses relocating to New York permanently.
Outside of VentureOut, Frumberg serves on the Innovation Council for FWD.us and sits on the Board of Directors for the NYC Innovation Collective. A native of Long Island, Frumberg is a graduate of the University of Richmond and began his career in finance.
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