Commissioners visit high-tech internship program in DUMBO

August 20, 2013 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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New York City Small Business Commissioner Robert Walsh and Mayor’s Office of Media and Entertainment Commissioner Katherine Oliver on Tuesday visited NYU Poly’s tech incubator at 20 Jay St., DUMBO, to examine a summer internship program for City Tech students.

They spoke to two interns, business owners and others while touring the incubator space.

The DUMBO incubator is basically one large room with many workstations. It’s similar to a typical office – with the difference being that the workstations, rather than belonging to different employees of the same company, are used by a wide variety of start-up companies.

Among these companies are Docracy, which provides free legal documents; Funding Community, a platform for small business loans; Violet Health, which seeks to address the problem of anemia in pregnant women; Maker’s Row, which connects manufacturers and product-based businesses; Brooklyn Bridge Ventures, a capital firm, and many more.

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The two commissioners and several other city representatives first visited Bldg Blok, a startup that seeks to provide history-based  apps for tourists in Brooklyn neighborhoods, starting with the Heights and nearby areas. “Exclusive content created in partnership with cultural institutions. Discover the city’s history through curated photos and stories,” reads the company’s promotional material.

A shopping-related app is also in the works. “When tourists visit a city, one thing they love to do is shop,” said Liz McEnaney of Bldg Blok.

They met the company’s City Tech intern, Jennifer Ramos, who also works at the Brooklyn Historical Society. A professor at the school, she recalls, suggested that she apply. Like the other interns in the program (many of whom are also working in other parts of the “Brooklyn Tech Triangle”), she hooked up with her company through a mass “speed interviewing” session at the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

The next stop was Impact Simulations, which uses game-like techniques and video game technology to motivate employees. Stuart Silverman, head of the company, said it is currently targeting “hourly employees,” mainly retail workers at “bricks and mortar retail. “

Silverman’s City Tech intern, Donald Cherestal, who helped to organize and code much of the material, showed a chart illustrating how this would work. Employees play “games” that correspond to some of their work tasks. If they do them well, they get rewards such as a free hour off, a few hours of free parking in the company’s parking lot or a day shadowing one of the company’s vice president.

Many retail chains think of semi-skilled hourly employees as disposable since their turnover is so great, said Silverman. But if the game technology made them more at ease and helped them stay even a few more months, it would save the companies millions.

In addition to getting valuable experience, the internships can serve as “pipelines to employment,” and the “speed interviewing” sessions help many of the interns hone their interviewing skills, several of those present said.

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