Jack Dorsey, cofounder of Twitter and Square, recently tried to disabuse the tech industry of its infatuation with the word ‘disruption.’ “We don’t want ‘disruption,’ where we just move things around. We want a direction. We want a purpose,” he said on stage at TechCrunch Disrupt, humbly suggesting the biannual conference change its name. But it’s more than just semantics. The tech sector’s claim to produce world-changing products and services often gets drowned out in a chorus of me-too companies solving problems no one ever complained about. The umpteenth nightlife-recommendations tool or empty real-time dating app can obscure the whirr of a nascent robotics sector in Manhattan or a futuristic, even revolutionary, experiment in manufacturing in Queens.
However, there are insurgents in our midst, quietly pushing the city closer to Mayor Bloomberg’s goal of “reclaiming our title as the world capital of technological innovation.” To identify those mindful mutineers, we tried to look beyond established leaders (see: Wilson, Fred) to the next class of innovators, who are forcing corporations to come to terms with the mobile revolution or shepherding startups toward making money without selling out. We found investors, developers, educators and agitators. We identified pioneering companies that set off the self-education craze (you’re welcome, Peter Thiel). We spotted a trio of provocateurs in Long Island City and an open-source radical on Roosevelt Island. Looking at this constellation of entrepreneurs, you can start to see the outline of New York’s tech future taking shape.
This story appeared on the cover of the November 14, 2012 issue of The New York Observer.