Hudson Valley Tech Industry Sees No Signs of Stopping | Art of Business | Hudson Valley | Hudson Valley; Chronogram
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Hudson Valley Tech Industry Sees No Signs of Stopping 

click to enlarge Grand Central Tech Co-founder and Managing Director  Matt Harrigan hosting the GCT Author Series in Manhattan
  • Grand Central Tech Co-founder and Managing Director Matt Harrigan hosting the GCT Author Series in Manhattan

The Hudson Valley's tech industry has gained huge momentum in recent years—and it's growing even quicker with a giant newcomer this summer.

If you stopped by Dietz Stadium on a chilly May evening and watched a couple hundred people cheer on a fourth-division soccer club created by a tech pioneer, you might nod your head and say to yourself, "Yup, this is the Hudson Valley."

There would be no Stockade FC, the fourth-division professional club launched in 2016 by Foursquare co-founder Dennis Crowley, if there wasn't a Hudson Valley Tech Meetup. And there wouldn't be a Hudson Valley Tech Meetup, a network of tech workers and entrepreneurs, if it wasn't for the thousands of creative thinkers and doers across the region attempting to showcase their skills while engrossing themselves in the greater community.

Whether they've been creating apps and platforms for years in Beacon, Hudson, Kingston, or Poughkeepsie, or they just arrived from New York City or elsewhere, tech entrepreneurs are finding a diverse, beautiful backdrop to create and engage. And now, with the arrival of New York City accelerator giant Grand Central Tech this summer, the Hudson Valley tech community is beginning to earn deeper credibility as a formidable and innovative unit ecosystem.

A Different Idea of Value

Grand Central Tech started as a summer accelerator program for tech startups inside a New York City high school. In 2014 it moved to Facebook's former headquarters in Midtown Manhattan, and with sponsors including Microsoft, Google, JPMorgan Chase, and IBM, plus financing by Millstein & Co., Grand Central Tech immediately staked a claim as a high-level accelerator program in the tech sector.

The program is alluring for tech entrepreneurs: Grand Central Tech doesn't require cash or equity from its potential members. If accepted (and GCT has a 2 percent acceptance rate), members receive a free year of rent inside its Midtown headquarters, which will soon encompass six levels of a high-rise and a total of more than 250,000 square feet of space. After one year, members can opt to stay at Grand Central Tech but will then pay for space. But by then there's a real chance a startup has taken off, moving into more funding rounds. Thus, Grand Central Tech offers an inexpensive opportunity to thrive in a competitive space, especially if that company is thinking beyond financial success.

"We think of all the companies with the same eye toward are they building to create value for themselves and their investors? Certainly, but also for the broader community at large?" says Sage Ramadge, director of Social Impact at GCT. "And do they want to invest in the community that we built, from a talent and experience perspective?"

In the fall of 2017, Ramadge and Grand Central Tech co-founder Matt Harrigan began talking about expanding the organization with a summer outpost outside of the five boroughs. Primarily they wanted GCT members to experience opportunities available to them in decidedly rural areas, both for a better quality of life and to meet different communities of people. That brought them straight to the Hudson Valley, which Ramadge called the "ideal" setting for the satellite space thanks to its natural beauty, creative and entrepreneurial population, and progressive social ecosystem. They considered Beacon and Hudson but scouted locations in Poughkeepsie and Kingston, deciding ultimately on the latter by renting space at the 8,000-square-foot Senate Garage, which is also home to Rhino Records and Dragon360, a digital marketing company with past clients that include Sony and Pantone. The satellite will open in July and will first be occupied by GCT members, though there's a possibility non-members could also join, says Ramadge.

Socializing & Soccer

Grand Central Tech found in the Hudson Valley an established tech community that continues to grow and thrive on a mission reflective of the "triple bottom line" philosophy in accounting. Every entrepreneur seeks financial success, but along with that is achievement socially and environmentally.

"It’s about doing beautiful work that supports people and has community impact,” says Kale Kaposhilin, chief community officer/co-founder at creative digital studio Moonfarmer and co-founder of Hudson Valley Tech Meetup, in explaining the triple bottom line philosophy. “And one after another, things have emerged because of this—that’s the startup community that I want to be part of.” 

As a sound engineer for improvisational jazz and other musicians, Kaposhilin ran a studio with friends, working with video and website development to expand the potential of the music. He first came to Kingston around 2000 and had with his friends "a vision for a live-work community where art is life," says Kaposhilin, which led to the 2014 founding of Hudson Valley Tech Meetup, a way to find and unite creative tech workers throughout the region.

The Meetup has grown each year, and now its member count sits at about 2,400. Members meet monthly to share their stories, whether about their startups, their issues with code and hacking, or what they hope to do next. The group also throws an annual event, Catskill Conf, which spreads out discussions and talks over a full weekend, adding group hikes, drink receptions, dancing and bonfires at the Ashokan Center. The keynote speaker at the 2016 Catskill Conf was Foursquare's Crowley, who already owned a home in the Kingston area. He used his presentation to tell the Catskill Conf crowd about his newest venture, Stockade FC, the soccer club that had just launched.

Crowley wrote in 2016 about his decision to launch the club, which was driven by his own personal belief system: "If there's something you want to see in the world and it doesn't yet exist, go out and make that thing." He simply wanted soccer in the Hudson Valley, a place he loved for its entrepreneurial spirit—thanks in part to Hudson Valley Tech Meetup—and the personal connections he made with creative community builders.

"Dennis is so awesome. He is just a really, genuinely nice person," says Kate Bradley Chernis, the co-founder and CEO of Lately, a digital dashboard for marketing. Bradley Chernis enrolled in the Grand Central Tech accelerator program in 2016 and now rents space in its Manhattan office, but Lately's main office is Bradley Chernis' home in Stone Ridge. She, like Kaposhilin, Crowley, and so many others, has been heavily engaged in the growth of the Hudson Valley as a tech hub. "I want to be able to enjoy where I'm living and working. We have the same quality of food as in New York City, why can't we have the same quality of employees?" says Bradley Chernis. "Anything I can do to perpetuate that here I'm trying my damndest."

Chernis just hired a vice president of sales who's from New Paltz and a customer success manager from Rhinebeck. She also speaks at Hudson Valley Tech Meetup events, including last year's Catskills Conf.

A New Kind of Tech Economy

Lately and Grand Central Tech are just two of the many tech-focused businesses, organizations, and workers finding a home in the Hudson Valley. Dragon360 has been around for 11 years. The Hudson Valley Startup Fund aims to provide seed capital to entrepreneurs leading with a community improvement focus. Hudson Valley Talent Base is a new website created by Jordan Koschei and made for local people to share projects. There's Brad Smith, who co-founded DIY website builder Virb and then brought his podcasting platform Simplecast to the Hudson Valley. There's Sophie Kravitz, the supplyframe director of product at Hackaday, which hosts hacking projects for tech engineers. And Dr. Kate Stone of Novalia, whose groundbreaking technology turns print paper into interactive material by use of touch-sensitive ink technology, is looking to move to the region.

The movement of tech workers to the Hudson Valley doesn't seem to be slowing down. Dutchess County in March secured an agreement between IBM, Dutchess Community College, Marist College, and Vassar College to create the "Innovation Quad" in Poughkeepsie. This partnership aims to foster an infrastructure for startups to thrive; its first success story is Telistat, which uses data to bring greater efficiency to restorative care in hospitals and nursing facilities. The Innovation Quad, says Dutchess County Assistant County Executive for Economic Development Ron Hicks, gives Poughkeepsie an outsized opportunity to grow as a tech hub supported by major private educational institutions. "We believe it will attract millennials and those who are priced out of the five boroughs," says Hicks. "We see great potential in Poughkeepsie and Dutchess County in advancing tech and innovation."

Meanwhile, Ulster County is courting New York City-based tech entrepreneurs. Ulster County Executive Mike Hein said 30 tech companies took part in a most recent bus tour, and five have relocated to the area. Hein believes the arrivals will continue because the business model is more sustainable than the past, when communities relied on one massive corporation to set up shop locally. "I watched this cycle wane with IBM leaving [Ulster County in 1996], and then watched a completely new kind of tech economy emerge," says Hein about the current landscape, which is now focused on community hubs, soccer clubs and bonfires at the Ashokan Center. "It's, to me, nothing short of extraordinary."

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