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Jessica Lawrence is the Executive Director of New York Tech Meetup (NYTM), the largest Meetup in the world and a non-profit organisation helping to build a sustainable and diverse technology industry in New York. In a recent conversation with Tom Lytton-Dickie from Hot Topics, she discussed the role NYTM plays in the New York tech ecosystem.

What is New York Tech Meetup (NYTM)?

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New York Tech Meetup is the largest meetup group in the world – currently with over 39,000 members – and we’re also a non-profit organisation, focused on helping to build a sustainable and diverse technology ecosystem that drives economic growth and leads innovation.

Ny Tech Meetup: The Latest Architecture and News 4 Teams Selected to Envision the Future of Autonomous Transit in NYC June 29, 2017 Four teams have been selected as finalists in the “Driverless. Our flagship program, the NY Tech Meetup has been a monthly staple for the NYC tech ecosystem since 2004! Co-f ounded by meetup.com founder Scott Heiferman and Dawn Barber, NY Tech Meetup (NYTM) began its life in a meeting room of meetup.com’s offices with only four attendees. It is now the world's largest meetup group with over 60,000 members!

How is NYTM supporting the New York tech ecosystem?

NY Tech Meetup started as a gathering place for the NY technology community and that is still a core part of what we do, providing the offline and online spaces for community members to connect and share resources. We also help to promote the work of our community by hosting our monthly Meetup which showcases nine different technology start-ups and is attended by an audience of over 850 members of the community; from investors and members of the press, to entrepreneurs and developers. We also serve as ambassadors and advocates on issues affecting our community, from workforce development to diversity to policy issues such as net neutrality, patent reform, and immigration.

What is your role within it?

As the Executive Director of NY Tech Meetup, I lead the organisation’s day-to-day operations and long-term strategy. I also serve as a point of connection for the community, interacting with everyone from start-up founders to elected officials to educators.

How have you seen the ecosystem evolve since you have been in the industry?

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The city’s technology community has grown substantially since I joined New York Tech Meetup in 2011. At the time, NYTM had 15,000 members. In the last three years, our membership has jumped to over 39,000 members. I think our membership growth is reflective of the growth of the ecosystem overall. From 2003 to 2013, NYC tech ecosystem employment grew by 18%, while New York City’s general employment grew by 12%, and the United States overall employment grew by just 4%. The tech ecosystem in NYC now employs over 291,000 people. And on a year-over-year basis from 2012 to 2103, New York VC funding jumped 49%.

What are the unique elements of the New York tech ecosystem?

There are a number of unique aspects to New York’s tech community. First, the density of population and geographic proximity of so many companies, industries, and cultural landmarks makes it an amazing place to launch products, find talent, and conduct day-to-day business. New York is also unique because tech isn’t the city’s only industry – it is also a centre of industries such as finance, fashion, advertising, publishing, media, and art. The diversity of the city’s population and the depth of its talent pool are also incredible assets. New York is also simply an amazing place to live – access to so much outstanding food, art, culture, music, and activities make it a vibrant community. And New Yorkers themselves make the city special, with their sense of pride, community, and hustle.

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Which ingredients is it still missing?

New York, like so many other places in the country and the world, would benefit from more technical talent. We are working with Mayor DeBlasio’s administration, the Economic Development Corporation, other non-profits and tech companies in the city to focus on workforce development – both in training more New Yorkers to enter tech jobs and in attracting more employees to New York. The city also needs to improve its connectivity, making high-speed Internet access and access to wifi the norm across the city.

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Why should an overseas tech company base its US operations in New York?

New York is a cross-section of people from all over the world and is incredibly supportive of people joining the community from outside of the city. In New York City, companies have incredible access to industries, thought leaders, capital, customers, talent, real estate and so many of the other components that help to make a company successful.

How is NYTM encouraging greater diversity within the tech ecosystem?

New York Tech Meetup is launching Women in Tech NYC, along with partners Control Group and Girl Develop It, which is a coalition of organisations in the city focused on engaging more women in technology. We are launching a web platform that provides a one-stop place for women to find tech organisations, events, and classes. We are also working closely with schools and organisations focused on engaging a diverse population of young people in tech, in order to ensure that the next generation of entrepreneurs and technologists is more reflective of the diversity of the city.

There are many exciting things happening within the community. Especially interesting is what’s starting to happen at the intersection of hardware and software, with companies like Kinsa making products that combine hardware with a mobile app and big data. Also interesting is what’s happening with companies that are focused on the future of work – companies like WeWork (for office space), Oscar (for health insurance), and Bench (for accounting services).

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What is the one privately held, New York based, tech company you think will have the highest valuation or market cap in the next 3-5 years?

I think companies like Etsy and WeWork are good contenders for that.