SUPPORT | March 4, 2020

Policy Dialogue: Diversity as a Pillar in New York City's Vibrant Entrepreneurial Scene

Photo Credit: The Samuel Dubois Cook Center on Social Equity at Duke University

Startup Nations member Loren Nadres, currently Economic Development Director in the NYC Mayor's Office for International Affairs, tells us about her recent role in promoting a vibrant entrepreneurship ecosystem. 

Previously at the World Bank, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and the United Nations, Nadres now combines her vast international and entrepreneurship development experience to foster relationships between businesses, trade missions and City agencies. 

 

Q: Can you share with us how NYC’s international community bolsters the city’s entrepreneurship ecosystem and broader economic development?  What barriers did the City perceive for international entrepreneurs in accessing NYC’s market and is seeking to address? 

The NYC Mayor’s Office for International Affairs is the City’s liaison to the largest diplomatic corps in the world which includes 70+ Trade Missions, 116 Consulates, 193 Permanent Missions to the UN, and the UN.  I lead the economic development work with this diverse and important part of our community.  As you can imagine, through this global community, particularly the Trade Missions and Consulates, NYC has a steady flow of international startups and companies interested in starting and expanding their businesses.  

NYC’s international community is an important contributor to our economy. More than 50% of the 230,000 small businesses here are immigrant-owned.  Moreover, according to the Fiscal Policy Institute, in 2017 alone, New York City’s immigrant business owners brought in $5.2 billion of the $13.2 billion in total individual earnings from incorporated businesses.  

Our city has a vast and ever-evolving market. The NYC metro area’s GDP is $1.8 trillion and larger than all but 11 countries in the world.  Last year alone, our startups raised over $8 billion dollars in venture and angel funding.  Entering this space can be at times overwhelming and daunting. However, we want to make sure that international startups and companies, as well as NYC’s diverse communities, are accessing the amazing opportunities and investments our City provides to help businesses succeed.  In my day-to-day, I help ensure that international businesses, including NYC based businesses particularly immigrant-owned, women-owned, and minority-owned businesses are connected to the business opportunities, incentives and resources the City provides. For example, NYC’s Economic Development Corporation provides multi-million dollar sector specific investments for entrepreneurs across industries that drive the city’s economy, including in technology, life sciences and healthcare, industrial and manufacturing, and fashion.  In addition, NYC Small Business Services provides many no-cost services and resources to entrepreneurs in immigrant communities in all five boroughs — including culturally-sensitive business courses, financing assistance, pro-bono legal aid, and more  — in multiple languages.  

NYC has long been a place for people from around the world to come and grow a business, and this is as true today as it has been during our history.  Our economy is growing, and we are striving to ensure we are growing in an inclusive way. We are able to do this even more with the economic development powered by our international and diverse communities. 

 

Q: NYC is regarded as already having a very developed startup ecosystem, as shown for example in the Global Startup Ecosystem Report. To what extent is NYC ensuring the inclusive growth of its economy? What are some examples of city-led policies or initiative(s)?

Although poverty rates are decreasing citywide, there is more to do to close the wealth gap.   NYC’s economic development is anchored in creating equitable economic development opportunities for all New Yorkers. That ideal lies at the heart of NYC’s Inclusive Economy strategy.  In addition, the City continues to build a robust startup ecosystem and make strategic investments as outlined in New York Works, a 10-year plan for creating 100,000 good-paying jobs in strategic growth industries.  For example, the City has made a $100 million public-private investment in Cyber NYC which is aimed at spurring the creation of 10,000 good paying jobs and making NYC a global leader in cyber innovation. One of the core parts of the initiative is workforce development for a diverse population of New Yorkers to gain in demand skills and land tech jobs in NYC, hence building a more inclusive business community that reflects – and benefits from – New York City’s diversity.   

Furthermore, through targeted programs, policies and capital products, the NYC Mayor’s Office for Minority and Women Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) has helped the City award over $10 billion in contracts to M/WBEs and aims to double that award amount to $20 billion by end of FY 2025.  The City has also been making strong strides in positioning NYC as the #1 place for women entrepreneurs in the world. The WE NYC program includes robust offerings that help women start and grow their businesses. With that said, even in NYC, women and women of color entrepreneurs continue to access starkly less financing than their male counterparts.  Hence, the City has created WE Fund Venture which is a public-private partnership that provides $30 million in early stage financing for women and women of color to access much needed capital to grow their companies.   

NYC’s diversity is our strength, heart and soul.  We strive each day to ensure we are uplifting all New Yorkers to share in the city’s prosperity.   New York City has 3.3 million foreign-born immigrants from more than 150 countries which comprise nearly 40% of the city population.  Additionally, as a recent New York Times article noted, “companies are choosing the city to tap into its deep and skilled talent pool and to attract employees who prefer the city’s diverse economy over technology-dominated hubs on the West Coast.”  If we are to continue to be the #1 place for fast growing businesses, it is imperative that our city’s economic growth is inclusive and equitable.   

 

Q: Lastly, how has your personal journey and background shaped your perspective on economic inclusion and equity? 

Expanding access to economic opportunities for immigrant-owned, women-owned and minority-owned businesses is at the core of the work I lead. I consider myself fortunate to work for a city whose values on inclusiveness and economic equality align with my own. My life experiences have greatly impacted my deep commitment and lifelong career to help others through the creation of equitable economic opportunities. It is not merely statistics and theory for me, it is because I have personally faced similar structural challenges and continue to see others lack access to opportunities.  I have lived the immigrant struggle, I experienced my mother’s hardships as a single parent providing for her daughters, and I have been impacted by how an unexpected life emergency, such as my sister’s health challenges, can all completely sideline a family’s ability to survive, much less thrive. Whatever platform I have, I want to be able to leverage it towards creating opportunities to give people the chance to improve their lives.  I know that for me and my family, we just wanted that chance to help ourselves.  I remain optimistic because I have experienced how grit melded with equitable access to economic opportunities can truly have a positive impact on the trajectory of people’s lives for generations to come. And, I am a living example of that.  

Cristina Fernández focuses on integrating policymakers into startup ecosystems across the world, creating platforms for them to exchange ideas… About the author