Tuesday, February 24, 2009

BLOOMBERG | Cloning Himself

Nearly 30 years ago, Mayor Michael Bloomberg left Salomon Brothers (it was the recession of 1981-82), and he transformed his $10 million severance check and his Salomon shares into a giant company with more than 9,000 employees concentrated in the New York City area.

He had a hunch he could compete with the Reuters terminals and he was right.

Now he wants to clone himself so that in 30 years other people can look back and say: "My giant company got started in New York during the Decession (Repression?) of 2008-2010."

His new idea is one I hoped the Mayor would come round to. I said so last October in an Op Ed in City Hall News:
Today, the city has a once-in-a-generation opportunity to harness the energy of Wall Street entrepreneurs bursting with ideas as grand as Bloomberg's was in 1981, but who need partners to make their ideas a reality. Layoffs from the downsizing of Wall Street create a unique opportunity for talented displaced workers to start or partner in new businesses or social ventures. The displacement could help advance the Mayor's PlaNYC 2030 agenda by encouraging green entrepreneurs--profit-oriented or nonprofit, like Solar One and GreenEdge NYC--to make the Big Apple into the Green Apple.
When I wrote this less than five months ago, the latest estimate from Albany of the likely loss of New York's financial services jobs was 40,000. The estimate now is 65,000.

Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t pretend his plan will restore all 65,000 jobs. But his “guess” is that the small businesses could create 25,000 jobs. Last week a NY Times story by Patrick McGeehan describes the Mayor’s new plan, which is to
invest $45 million in government money to retrain investment bankers, traders and others who have lost jobs on Wall Street, as well as provide seed capital and office space for new businesses those laid-off bankers might create. The plan is intended to stem a potential exodus of banking professionals from the city during the restructuring of the financial services industry, which has been the city’s economic engine for decades, and to speed the industry’s recovery, which will take at least several years, officials said. Mr. Bloomberg recounted how he created his company in a rented 10-foot-by-10-foot room. He received no help from the city, but he said that was no reason not to help other entrepreneurs now.
The most tangible aspect of the plan is the creation of new incubators, one of them at 160 Varick Street, where he announced his new plan. The Varick Street building
will house an incubator for start-up companies that might employ laid-off professionals. Trinity Real Estate donated the space for three years and the Polytechnic Institute of New York University will select the entrepreneurs who will occupy the space, beginning in April. A second business incubator is scheduled to open in Lower Manhattan later in the year, said Seth W. Pinsky, the president of the city’s Economic Development Corporation. The agency plans to put $3 million into funds to make small investments in start-up companies, Mr. Pinsky said. He said that he hoped to attract twice as much money from private investors and that $9 million would be enough to help start hundreds of new businesses.
I spent the first half year after retiring from the Comptroller's Office in a business incubator in Manhattan and I have recently written about another one, Green Spaces in Brooklyn, as “Green Edge 14”. A report I worked on for the NYC Comptroller on the software industry in 1999 concluded that NYC needed more well-conceived incubators.

Successful incubators such as those that spawned the successes of Route 128 and Silicon Valley require energy from several sources. The MIT-Stanford model is based on a three-way fusion of energy from business entrepreneurs, government money and leadership, and university knowledge. Incubators in New York City that have petered out have usually lacked strong enough government support or university involvement.

My friend Professor Henry Etzkowitz calls the fusion of energy from the three sources in a well-functioning incubator the "Triple Helix" of innovation. If we are looking to clone financial entrepreneurs, it’s hard to think of a better DNA to work with than the Mayor’s.