While New York is a world financial capital and a magnet for investment and entrepreneurship, Silicon Valley remains top of mind when it comes to tech startups.
That's finally changing.
After the 2007 collapse of the financial sector, the Bloomberg administration, in an attempt to limit the city's reliance on any single market sector, sought to diversify New York's economy beyond finance, insurance and real estate. But how to best leverage NYC's talent and forge a new narrative?
The solution: an applied sciences graduate campus to incubate new business growth. The rest is history.
Aaron Holiday, Managing Entrepreneurial Officer of Cornell Tech, is a key part of that history. Holiday has a computer science background and received his MBA from Cornell before Cornell Tech existed. When he began his career — first as a software engineer at Goldman Sachs, then in product development at GFI Group — he noticed a divide between MBAs and engineers in day-to-day operations.
“I was always confused by that," Holiday said, "because the engineers understood both the business and the technology in significant granularity, but the business people only understood the business."
And Holiday saw a similar divide persisting in b-school curricula, where the only hands-on components might be developing a business plan or participating in a class competition. Contrast that with Cornell Tech, where "building a company is integrated into the curriculum."
"Cornell Tech is the type of program that my entrepreneurial B-school peers and I would have valued," Holiday recollected. "We were a small bunch, because tech wasn't very popular amongst B-school students at the time."
Holiday is keen to differentiate the Cornell Tech experience, at the outset, as a new paradigm for higher education. He says that while academic study is generally thought of as “time off from the real world," Cornell Tech's integrated curriculum of business and engineering makes it “time on."
“Instead of being sucked into academia to learn theory, students are brought into the future by being challenged to think through and solve business and technical problems that have not yet been solved," Holiday said.
Solving those problems is how Leland Rechis, Cornell Tech's Designer-in-Residence, made his name. His perspective is rooted in product and design, having spearheaded product management and design efforts at Twitter, Etsy and Kickstarter — all when they were early-stage startups.
And Rechis believes that Cornell Tech's Studio is the perfect place for teaching startup-formation as its own unique discipline.
"The Studio pedagogy is constantly evolving, especially as we continue to attract practitioners that have built companies before," Rechis said.
A diverse range of participants in the community with interdisciplinary skills and domain expertise frequently interact with students as mentors in Company Challenges, advisers during Startup Studio and guests during Conversations in the Studio.
"When the community participates in the Studio," Rechis says, "great things happen like the ideation of products and businesses that would not have otherwise been thought of at Cornell Tech."
Both Rechis and Holiday are focused on the future. For Holiday, that means not being "blinded by the popularity of where tech is today. We have to think about where tech will be tomorrow — VR, blockchain, deep learning, computer vision, security — and prepare to be competitive for that."
Rechis, who decamped from Silicon Valley and returned to NYC, describes the Big Apple as the focal point for a kind of at-large goodwill: “Everyone is rooting for NYC to succeed." He foresees Cornell Tech leveraging that support in a variety of different ways as its graduates enter the workforce or form innovate startups. "That disruption can happen in Silicon Valley or it can happen at home," Rechis says. "I'd love for it to happen at home."