By JEFFREY COLTIN
“I was born hustling,” said the man behind the mic. It is standard hip-hop bravado, reminiscent of Rick Ross’s “Everyday I’m Hustlin’” or Jay Z’s “Can’t Knock the Hustle.” However, this was not a rap concert. The proud hustler was Patrick F. Sullivan, a tech entrepreneur who sold his startup to Google. And he was speaking at the Bronx Technology and Startup Summit held on Oct. 16 in Hughes Hall on Fordham’s Rose Hill campus.
“I was born and raised in the Bronx,” Sullivan continued. “And hopefully the next [startup company] which I start will be in the Bronx.”
This was the second annual summit, officially titled “Technology Innovation and Start-Ups in the Bronx: Opportunities and Challenges.” It is the brainchild of Wullianallur Raghupathi, adjunct professor of law at Fordham, who called it “a group of people coming together to discuss the role of technology and start ups and entrepreneurship in the Bronx.”
He wanted the conference to lead to some concrete action. “I’m hoping that we can promote this revitalization,” he said.
Fr. Joseph McShane, S.J., president of the university, felt the same way. He opened the summit with a short address, saying Fordham has called the Bronx home for a very long time, so “we are proud to lend our support to any and all causes that expand the economic base of the Bronx.” Then a classic McShane charge to the entrepreneurs assembled: “Come up with great schemes, please.”
The speakers did their best to inspire. Some, like Sullivan, gave general advice on how to make startups succeed. Others, like Dominique Essig of the Gilt Group praised the Bronx’s diversity as fertile ground for business. “Diversity produces better results,” she said. “And good companies appreciate that.”
The summit drew an ethnically diverse audience, true to the borough’s population. Especially impressive in the male-dominated areas of technology and business about one-quarter of the attendees were women.
Despite all the diversity, the summit’s attendees were clearly united by at least one thing. A speaker’s innocuous question about how many entrepreneurs were in the room brought forth a flurry of raised hands. In all their haste you would think there was a venture capitalist at the podium promising seed money to the proudest promoter.
Among the entrepreneurs was Mayur Dashani, GBA ’14. He recently looked to a professor for advice on starting a business. “If you want to start a company in New York,” the professor said, “the Bronx has to be the place.”
Dashani agrees. “I feel that the Bronx has a lot of potential, it has a lot to offer,” he said. “Real estate is very cheap so it’s easy for a startup [here as opposed to] Manhattan. And it’s just half an hour from Manhattan.”
Raghupathi said he chose to focus on the Bronx simply because that is where Rose Hill is located.
With Manhattan and Brooklyn taking the lion’s share of technology start-ups, he loves the challenge of luring business to New York City’s northernmost borough. “I think there is something magical from an academic perspective to take a problem or a challenge and to try and solve it,” he said.
While there are some tech startups in the Bronx, “there’s not [a] particular event or something happening that says ‘oh now the Bronx is going to take off,’” Raghupathi said. “And that’s what we are trying [to do] through these events, networking and summits, to encourage that.”
Count Pat Ahern, GSB ’15, among the encouraged. He said the summit changed his perception of doing business in the borough. “There were some incredible guest speakers,” he said. “It was very cool to see some of these entrepreneurs that have come out of the Bronx — and some of these entrepreneurs that are from areas outside of the Bronx that are coming to the Bronx now to do their business.”