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Adams tells tech companies to embrace diversity at Brooklyn Tech Week kickoff

November 7, 2019 Mary Frost
Borough President Eric Adams touted Brooklyn as the place for startups because of its diversity and investment in STEM education at the kickoff to Brooklyn Tech Week on Wednesday. Eagle photo by Mary Frost
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Borough President Eric Adams had a warning for tech companies and city agencies during a kickoff event for Brooklyn Tech Week on Wednesday: Embrace change, or be left behind.

In his keynote address at the gathering of tech startups, investors, policymakers and educators, Adams stressed the importance of diversity and cross-cultural connections to global competitiveness. He challenged government agencies to join the 21st century. The weeklong event series includes symposiums on topics ranging from smart cities to startups to raising capital.

“At the heart of being a smart city, it’s that devices can’t only be smart, but we must become smarter and break free of our comfort zone, and not believe that the innovation is based on the tool, but is based on the relationships.”

He asked attendees to look at their own companies. “If the people that sit in your companies … look like you, walk like you, eat the same food and came from the same background, you are really not globally competitive.”

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Sixty percent of the city’s tech sector is male, and 62 percent are white, according to data from Center for an Urban Future. Only 9 percent of the tech sector is black, though about 25 percent of the city’s population is.

Adams touted Brooklyn as the place for startups because of its diversity and the groundwork the borough has engaged in, including millions of dollars of investments in STEM education.

Related: How to spread Brooklyn’s ‘Innovation Economy’

The borough of kings has become a hotbed of digital innovation and technology services, and business honchos say the city would benefit by not only growing that sector but becoming an urban laboratory.

“Brooklyn really has become the epicenter for the creative economy in the United States,” Randy Peers, president and CEO of the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce, told the Brooklyn Eagle. “In terms of new entrepreneurs in the tech center, only San Francisco outpaces us currently. And we’re a much bigger place, so long term, this is where we’re going to see even more tech startups.”

“It’s really about the application at the end of the day … Using smart technology for improving traffic flow, for example,” Peers said. Brooklyn is “where we’re going to see a lot of that smart technology incubated and it’s going to take off.”

Related: Tech, politics and growth: The new BK Chamber president’s plan for the future

Adams was a police officer back in the day, but he was also computer programmer who programmed mainframes with Assembly and COBOL language, he said.

“I was one of the individuals that was part of the first team that created … the online police system that gave way to CompStat, which really contributed to a decrease in crime. We were able to analyze crime in real-time. We were able to move from being reactive to proactive, until finally we reached a level that is predictive. That is what I believe smart cities is about.”

Adams said that this is something “that all of our major agencies in our cities fail to embrace. … Go to the Department of Buildings right now. You still have to file a document and have someone wait several months before that document is approved.”

“If you can have a package leave Budapest, land at Kennedy Airport, and land at your doorstep with you just looking at an app, tell me why we can’t have those same mechanisms in government?” he asked. “I say we can, but we have to be willing to move outside of our comfort zone.”

Peers said he had faith that government would catch up with tech.

“As more young professionals get into different fields, they bring with them what they’ve been exposed to. They grew up with tech. It’s just a matter of time.”

Brooklyn Tech Week continues through Nov. 10 with the Blockchain Crypto Summit at Brooklyn Law School on Thursday; the Women Leadership Forum at NYC College of Technology on Friday, a Startup Economic Forum at National Grid on Friday, and winds up with the BK Urban Hack at BKLYN Commons on Friday and Saturday.

Check here for the full schedule of Brooklyn Tech Week events.

  • Correction (Nov. 14 at 2 p.m.): The software COBOL was originally misspelled as COBALT. This has been updated.

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