Google chairman Eric Schmidt was one of the few West Coast representatives at a private summit of tech leaders hosted by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Bloomberg Philanthropies yesterday. The topic at hand: how New York and the US can "keep the edge" in tech innovation.
After the off-the-record conversation, which was reportedly interesting but not immediately actionable, Schmidt joined Mayor Bloomberg for a press conference. Faced with reporters and cameras at the headquarters of a New York startup, Boxee, the chairman proceeded to talk up Silicon Alley — and Mayor Bloomberg.
"When you study innovation now, you understand that innovation occurs in cities, and it's highly likely to occur in cities which have just the right combination of things," Schmidt said. "You have to have money, you have to have the right people, you have to have a reason for people to come here. But perhaps most important, you have to have a committed leader, in this case in the form of the mayor, who is willing to make it happen. What we've seen over and over again is a commitment to making New York City a viable alternative to Silicon Valley and a place where true innovation occurs for the global good."
"I think it's good for Silicon Valley to have a competitor."
Mayor Bloomberg has worked hard in his third term to push initiatives to benefit the city's tech industry, most notably the creation of an applied sciences campus near Manhattan in partnership with Cornell and Technion universities. Venture capital investing in New York companies has grown faster than in other regions, and the city is now the nation's second-largest tech hub by dollars invested.
"I think that structure is going to be true for a while and I think it's good for Silicon Valley to have a competitor," Schmidt said. "This is going to be a phenomenal growth story for New York for decades to come."
Schmidt's appearance at the summit and the press conference are in keeping with his new role wandering the Earth doing publicity for Google. The company "made a decision a long time ago to invest in New York City," Schmidt said. Google employs more than 3,000 people in New York and made a massive local investment at the end of 2010 when it bought a brick building that takes up an entire city block for a reported $1.8 billion. Google will continue to invest in New York and make acquisitions there, Schmidt promised.
Supporting the young startup industry unifies New York City's entrepreneurs
Supporting the young startup industry unifies New York City's tech entrepreneurs, who would probably otherwise be at each other's throats in the battle over scarce talent. Startups are being founded and funded in New York left and right, and the city is filled with entrepreneurs who are passionate about the internet. However, Silicon Alley is still lacking in veterans and big exits. "It's not that it needs to be kickstarted, but maybe we need to add more fuel to the fire," said Boxee founder Avner Ronen. "The graduating class is still small."
Kickstarter cofounder Perry Chen, Twitter CEO Dick Costolo, and Union Square Ventures founder Fred Wilson were also among the 44 entrepreneurs, venture capitalists, and government officials who gathered for the summit that brought Schmidt to town. The discussion reportedly centered around how to attract and train skilled techies to fill the scores of empty startup jobs in New York and around the country, a task Bloomberg feels the federal government has fallen down on.
Bloomberg, of course, started his own fantastically-successful company around a tech product: the Bloomberg financial data terminal. The mayor's time in office be over in just over a year, but he seems determined to make a robust New York tech sector part of his legacy.