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August 20, 2014

Sowing Startup Success

As part of our Big Apple series, Owen Davis ’08, managing partner of NYC Seed, talks about helping local startups grow and thrive.

Kimberly Kinchen

His NYC Legacy
If it seems like there’s a startup — and startup incubator — around every New York street corner, it’s in large part due to NYC Seed, which funds NYC–based early-stage tech firms. In 2007, serial entrepreneur Owen Davis ’08 and several fellow local entrepreneurs saw that many promising NYC–based tech startups were struggling to secure capital. “We assembled a group of partners to address that,” Davis says. “The ecosystem needed funds directed at that early layer of capital.” Partners, who provide funding, include Empire State Development and the Partnership for New York City (where Russell Carson ’67 and Henry Kravis ’69 play active roles). To date, NYC Seed has supported more than 60 startups — such as Contently, a rapidly growing online marketplace where brands connect with journalists to create compelling sponsored content.

“I don’t believe people are born with a startup gene. There’s a process that will minimize the silly mistakes new entrepreneurs make.”

How He’s Helping New York Startups
NYC Seed offers more than funding — it nurtures promising early-stage startups through an extensive network that links new founders with experienced entrepreneurs and mentors, other firms, and talent. “It’s invaluable to be surrounded by people who know the pattern and the rules of thumb that will get a business going,” Davis says.

An entrepreneurial populist of sorts, Davis teaches the School’s Launching New Ventures course, which he likens to the animated film Ratatouille, the 2007 hit about the rise of an unlikely celebrity chef. “The film’s theme is, anyone can cook,” Davis says. “The class’s theme is, anyone can launch. I don’t believe people are born with a startup gene. There’s a process that will minimize the silly mistakes new entrepreneurs make.”

The Big Apple Advantage
Davis radiates confidence in New York’s potential for startups, even in contrast to Silicon Valley. “We actually have more of something than the Valley: customers,” he says. “If you’re a startup catering to the ad industry, you should be here. In financial technology? Same. In creative design or media human capital? New York has it in droves.” And then there’s simply the city itself. “Let’s be real,” Davis laughs. “What city is better than New York?”

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