Metro Tech

Can Genius-Grant Winner Majora Carter Bring the Tech Boom to the South Bronx?

Can a MacArthur Award winner break the pattern?
bxreoutreach59 small Can Genius Grant Winner Majora Carter Bring the Tech Boom to the South Bronx?

Ms. Carter (Photo: Wikimedia)

Silicon Hunts Point may sound like a far-fetched idea . . . to people who haven’t seen Majora Carter’s compelling TED talk about how neighborhoods like the South Bronx, where she grew up, suffered from urban policies that left residents exposed to air pollution, or living next to power plants.

Now the environmental justice advocate, who was awarded a MacArthur “genius” Fellowship for her pioneering work with Sustainable South Bronx, is setting her sights on ensuring the same kind of equality when it comes to New York’s booming startup sector.

As The Daily News reports, Ms. Carter and two business partners are launching a nonprofit called Startup Box. It will offer coworking space as well as classes on coding, Web design, and digital fabrication to high school students. (It’s worth noting that Silicon Valley investors have also switched gears away from clean-tech and toward consumer Internet over the years.)

The trio is in search of a Hunts Point building to retrofit and funding from established tech companies, with the hope that high-profile mentors could draw activity uptown.

Center for an Urban Future director Jonathan Bowles, the voice of reason who recently pointed out failure rates for startups, told the Daily News that Startup Box faces significant hurdles:

“There should be more startups in low-income neighborhoods,” he said. “But a lot of tech startups do want to be around other tech startups and Manhattan is where the majority are concentrated.”

But as we’ve seen with the success of General Assembly–over some other well-intentioned downtown incubators–urban campuses can thrive with community investment. One of Ms. Carter’s cofounders, for example, is Lyel Resner, an MIT grad and former Wall Street banker who decided to give that up to teach robotics to kids.

Follow Nitasha Tiku on Twitter or via RSS. ntiku@observer.com