In this installment of our ‘Accelerate’ series, we sat down with Grand Central Tech to discuss how they are leveraging New York City’s competitive advantages to support the local startup scene and connect entrepreneurs to GCT’s corporate and education partners.
Andrew Der: How is Grand Central Tech different from most accelerators, and how is the team building a diverse and inclusive culture of innovation?
Matt Harrigan: Grand Central Tech is different from most accelerators in a number of ways and you touched on two areas in your question.
First, we believe that every startup ecosystem around the world has different strengths and weaknesses to leverage or overcome. In the case of New York, we view the density of corporations -- either headquartered here or having a major operational presence -- to be a huge asset for the startup world that is only starting to be unlocked (Click to Tweet). At Grand Central Tech, we don’t take equity as a condition of participation as most accelerators, who often suffer from negative selection bias. Our model enables us to attract the caliber of entrepreneurs and startups that our corporate partners are most interested in engaging with. Our approach in facilitating interactions between startups and corporations preserves the independence of the startup, while still allowing room for meaningful corporate insight and mentorship. In the current fundraising environment where startups are being asked to show revenue and/or customers early on, we're finding this push for startups to scale their product or solution matches the appetite of the corporate world seeking new innovations. This dynamic is creating very fertile ground for rapid venture acceleration.
Second, our value proposition - coupled with the free rent we offer - means we receive quite a few applications. Our review process is thorough and we look for companies that are diverse and/or have diversity as a core tenant, which is reflected in our diversity statistics. For example, 50% of GCT founders are female and our code of conduct requires all participants to create an open and welcoming environment.
AD: What are key qualities you look for in the entrepreneurs you work with?
MH: I would say a combination of modesty, curiosity, and determination. I've found that the most successful founders never assume they have they answer, and never presume they can't find it (Click to Tweet).
AD: Can you share a success story you’re proud of since the launch of GCT in 2014?
MH: While there are a number of successes we’ve seen, including three classes raising up to $100 million in funding, I'm particularly proud of our internship program. Since our inception, we've wanted to demonstrate that the tech sector in NY could be lucrative and thoughtful. Participation in our summer internship program is a requirement of all GCT companies. Interns that participate in the program are selected from traditionally overlooked or disadvantaged backgrounds. Based on their interests and skills, they are paired with relevant GCT companies and 85% of these interns have received ongoing paid work from their companies following their internship. Not only does this have a dramatic impact on the economic prospects of those interns, but also represents our commitment to reimagining what success looks like in the tech sector.
AD: What's one big focus area for GCT this year?
MH: This year, GCT received a $2.5M grant from the New York City Economic Development Corporation to open an Urban Tech Hub, which we formally launched in September of 2016. With over half of the world's population now living in cities and enduring the stresses of climate change, we need to get creative and collaborate across various stakeholder backgrounds to ensure the ongoing viability of our infrastructure as well as livability of our environments. In 2017, we hope that space help us carry out our mission of gathering premier entrepreneurs, industry partners and government leaders to continuously imagine the future of cities and address any obstacles preventing us from getting there.