Michael Samuelian – 07/14/22

The NYC Recovery Challenge began in spring 2021 when three leaders in New York City’s tech ecosystem, Cornell Tech, Tech:NYC and Google for Startups came together with the shared goal of helping New York City’s business recovery. We were looking to spur diverse and resilient job growth and retention in the city to help address the New York’s still high unemployment rate, which was still (and continues to be) twice the rest of the country.[1] The strategy we developed was to focus specifically on ways that technologies were being used by New York-based tech startups to support small businesses and the workers most directly affected by the Covid pandemic.

In December 2021,  ten companies were selected out of more than 175 submissions from all five boroughs. In addition to $150,000 in cash prizes to the top three finalists, all ten founders were dubbed “NYC Recovery Challenge Fellows” and enrolled in a mentorship program created by Google for Startups and Cornell Tech. This bespoke eight week program gave winners three months of equity-free support including; 1) training on product, marketing,  sales, fundraising and leadership, 2) access to Google and Cornell Tech’s network of industry experts and 3) support with company and product strategy.

Like any good educational partnership, we learned as much from the cohort as they gained from our curriculum. We learned that technology is helping to empower workers like never before, using new tools such as AI, machine learning and data science to invert traditional power structures that kept many workers from taking full control of their careers. And with the advent of web 3.0 this devolution of power to workers will only accelerate as users gain more agency in the workplace.

3 Lessons Learned from our Founders

We are incredibly proud of our diverse cohort, who represent the creativity of New Yorkers and the resiliency of our small business community. Forty percent of the winners are women-led companies and eighty percent are led by people of color. Amongst the ten companies who were selected as Recovery Fellows, three areas of focus emerged that indicate ways that new digital technology is supporting job growth and retention.

These themes revealed ways that new technology is being used to 1) creatively give new access to capital for small businesses, 2) bring more equity to underserved communities, acknowledge new ways that people  are working and 3) deploy new data tools to enhance brick and mortar businesses.

One major theme that emerged from the challenge was the need for small businesses to get non-traditional sources of funding and financing. Our first place winner, Manhattan-based Guava is a digital community banking for Black-owned small businesses. In addition,  Coverr, a Queens-based company provides financial services customized for gig economy workers.

Technology tools are also being used to bring more equity to underserved communities. Brooklyn-based Dollaride is a  mobility company for communities underserved by public transit while Daivergent  has built a platform that maximizes job-readiness for individuals in the autism and the disability population.

Covid has an asymmetrical effect on different types of workers, pushing many previously stable small businesses to close for good and many workers jobless for the first time in their careers. Reskilling and upskilling the workforce will be key to supporting this workforce, and technology is helping. Bronx-based Sector is a job application tracker that walks applicants through data-driven steps to increase their chances of getting hired. And for workers who are looking to advance their careers by changing jobs, oftentimes the benefits “cliff” that occurs with a career change can hold workers back from taking the chance. The Leap Fund provides solutions to identify, bridge, and ultimately, eliminate benefits cliffs by creating pathways towards greater independence for workers.

New communication technology has had dramatic impacts on  how we work, and this trend has only accelerated during Covid. With the shift away from traditional 9-5 office work to more content and project driven work, Brooklyn-based  Shifterr makes finding work and hiring employees easier and more flexible. And for New York’s City’s dynamic and growing creative economy Mavity provides end-to-end collaboration tools to build and empower teams.

Urban data and data science tools are giving us pictures of cities in new and profound ways.  Live XYZ is a company that is powering a new approach to connect brick and mortar business with customers. And finally, one founder is taking a targeted approach and bringing new resources to  an under-appreciated  icon of New York City retail, the Bodega. Working closely with the city’s  Yemeni community, TYCA tech is bringing  an AI-powered online community marketplace connecting people to local bodegas to improve both inventory control and the customer experience.

A year after initiating this Challenge, with widespread vaccinations and relatively stable Covid positivity rates, New York City is on a path towards recovery. We remain more inspired and optimistic than ever thanks to the passion and creativity of these founders, who represent the best of New York’s entrepreneurial spirit. With founders like these in the City’s tech community, our future looks brighter than ever.