They’re mentors. They’re facilitators. They’re connectors. And they’re always ready, willing and able to help entrepreneurs wherever and however they can.
You may have seen some of them on panels, but these are the people who spend most of their time working behind the scenes and front and center to keep the New York tech community thriving and growing.
We, at AlleyWatch, felt it was high time that someone shined a spotlight on these shakers and movers. They’re the people who help to make sure the trains not only run on time, but that the startups and/or the entrepreneurs fortunate enough to cross their paths, stay on track. A round of applause for the true backbones of the New York tech scene – each and every one of them is nothing short of awesome!
Founder’s note: AlleyWatch does not have a financial relationship with any of those included. This list is in no particular order nor is it a ranking. In fact, the =RAND() function on excel was used to determine order. In a city of 8.3M, there are more than 20 awesome people in NYC Tech. If you are not on this list, it is not an indication of your awesomeness or lack thereof and there is no reason to fire your PR firm. Continue being awesome. Lastly, thanks to everyone in NYC for their work in building this thriving ecosystem, without which a property like ours would not be possible.
Jonathan Lehr, Venture Director, Work-Bench
Jonathan Lehr is Venture Director at Work-Bench, an enterprise technology growth accelerator that provides community and workspace, connecting enterprise startups that have funding, a product, and early traction to Fortune 500 buyers. With their own $10 million fund, they also back enterprise startups. That’s where Lehr comes in.
He’s certainly no stranger to the enterprise space.
In early 2012, he started the NY Enterprise Technology Meetup – the first Meetup group in NYC focused exclusively on enterprise technology company presentation – and which is not always the easiest ticket to nab. It’s no wonder: the group has over 3,000 members, including Fortune 500 technologists, enterprise entrepreneurs, investors, and students.
The cool apps and wearables and Tinders-of-whatever aside, at the end of the day, New York is very much an Enterprise technology town, and Lehr is very much at the nexus of it. Awesome!
Keep up with Jonathan at:
John Ason, Angel Investor
John Ason is something of a rarity. He has been a professional angel investor for about 17 years and has funded over 40 startup companies, the majority of which were pre revenue or user traction or both, with many consisting of one or two people in a kitchen or garage.
And in about half of the companies, he was the lead angel. Maybe it was because he has a big company background (AT&T), but people made fun of him when he transitioned to investing and one of his first investments was a company called Diapers.com. It was early days for the Internet. People had a hard time believing that anyone would be fool enough to buy diapers online. Until the company was bought by Amazon for $545M. Nice! He also invested in Bikini.com, which he attributes to his midlife crisis. And that was just the beginning.
He takes chances and unlike most investors, typically invests in industries he knows little about, although he does avoid medical, biotech and “green” industries.
We all have our limits.
Oh, and if you plan on sending him that gorgeous deck you slaved over to make sure that every slide was a standalone work of art, wrong guy. If you can’t tell him what you’re doing in one page that he can look at on a mobile device, don’t bother. One page, that’s it, and he like a lot of white space.
And ideas that he hasn’t heard before.
And wine (in fact, he invested in a winery out in California).
And women in tech.
He mentors female entrepreneurs through Astia and Springboard and women angel investors as well, within Pipeline Fellowship, Topstone Angels, and 37angels. He has funded 11 female-founded companies, Awesome!
Keep up with John:
David Teten, Partner, ff Venture Capital
It’s true. He really is a Parkour legend, so don’t mess with David Teten. Not that you’d have any reason to. A partner with ff Venture Capital, a New York-based venture firm which has made over 200 investments in over 70 companies across the US, Canada, UK, and Israel since 1999. He is also Founder and Chairman Emeritus of Harvard Business School Alumni Angels of Greater New York, the second-largest angel network in New York and cofounder of the Venture Capital Access Program, which helps women and minority entrepreneurs raise venture capital from members of the HBS Alumni Angels network. He is a Mentor with Founder Institute in New York and Singapore, Dreamit Ventures, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, Lean Startup Machine, and Startup Leadership Program.
And he still finds time to train in parkour (“Parkour is to entrepreneurs as golf is to (some) corporate executives”) and speak on panels at New York pitching events, where he always makes himself available to entrepreneurs. Awesome!
Teten also co-authored The Virtual Handshake, which is available as a free download.
With a great degree of confidence, we can say that Teten is the only person in the New York Tech scene to have done on-stage vertical pushups, as we witnessed at a recent Startup Grind NYC event (see above). How awesome is that!
Keep up with David:
Jesse Middleton, Director of Member Products, WeWork
Startups – and coworking spaces – changed the real estate world in New York and WeWork was the first to change coworking spaces themselves, when Jesse Middleton, along with Matt Shampine and Adam Neumann, co-founded WeWork Labs. Before creating the Labs, Jesse was one of the co-founders of Backstory, a marketing engagement platform. Now he runs product and other fun things for the company, and advising companies like including YourTrove, Blueprint Health and Symple.
To bottom line it: Middleton is one of those guys who has been on both sides of the table and has dealt with all of the parts of the equation, so he feels your pain. And is always happy to introduce you to someone who just might be able to help you out with your problem. Ever the optimist, he seemingly lives by the WeWork credo itself: Do what you love. That’s pretty awesome!
Keep up with Jesse at:
Image credit: Twitter
Frank Denbow, Founder, StartupThreads
Who doesn’t know Frank Denbow? A developer and entrepreneur, anyone who knows Denbow knows that true passion is music (as it has to do with technology, of course).
An early participant (and mentor) for StartupWeekend NYC, back in the early days, before SUW became a global phenomenon, it wasn’t long before he was lead organizer for the event. He curates the weekly Startup Digest NYC, he’s founder of Startup Threads, a merchandising solution for startups and events, providing the designing, production, and distribution of promotional items.
A graduate of Carnegie Mellon with a degree in computer science, if you had to describe Denbow in a word, it would be ‘passionate.’ In fact, one of the things that he’s extremely passionate about is exposing more K-12 students to computer science, which he does through such programs as CampInteractive and Academy For Software Engineering.
He’ll be heading off to participate in Startup Chile for the next six months (and still in touch with NYC via the Digest), but he’ll be back. And we’ll be happy to see his smiling face again when he is…because he’s always Frank and unfailingly awesome!
Keep up with Frank:
Image credit: Facebook
Jeanne Sullivan, Founding Partner, Starvest Partners
Founding principal of StarVest Partners, named by Forbes as one of the “5 Most Powerful Women Changing the World in VC and Entrepreneurship,” and 2013 recipient of the New York Angels’ Opel Award for Outstanding Leadership, Jeanne Sullivan claims to have retired. Yeah, right.
Show of hands: who believes that one?
Anyone who knows her knows that the diminutive Sullivan is a force of nature. In fact, her ‘retirement’ so far consists of speaking engagements around the world. She’s also a strong supporter and frequent mentor of female entrepreneurs, so we’re happy to see that she’s taking her ‘retirement’ as seriously as we are. You go, girl!
Keep up with Jeanne:
Bradley Harrison, Founder, Scout Ventures
That’s sir, to you. No, he hasn’t been knighted, although he is arguably an absolute prince among investors. Before beginning his career in venture capitalism, the founder and managing partner of BHV (now Scout Ventures) was a cadet at the United States Military Academy at West Point (1990-1994), graduating in the top 1% of his class with a B.S.E. in Quantitative Economics and a concentration in Systems Engineering, and a Distinguished Honor Graduate award. He then went on to serve in the United States Army for 5 years, beginning his military career as a second lieutenant and retiring as a captain, while earning both Airborne and Ranger qualifications.
An MIT grad, Harrison holds an MBA from Sloan and is also an active participant in the Columbia Business School’s Greenhouse Program and has served as an executive mentor for the school’s Launching New Ventures course with Brendan Burns. But you don’t have to be an MBA candidate to catch his ear or a few minutes of his time. And that’s just one of the reasons why we’re saluting him here for being awesome in New York!
Keep up with Bradley at:
Kelly Hoey, CMO, Cuurio
A strategist, moderator, speaker, interviewer extraordinaire, accelerator mentor, startup board member, and angel investor, Kelly Hoey takes a keen interest in social and digital, and the human interactions and motivations which fuel engagement.
In other words, she’s a connector.
You might have attended one of her Founders Breakfasts. Or one of her “Meet The Innovators” evenings that she hosts at the Apple store in Soho. Or tuned in for a segment or two of her #womenwhotech Google+ hangout on air series. If not, you need to: she always says something worth hearing.
Yes, she does all of this and has a day job, too: Hoey is the CMO of Cuurio, an index of startups and an ideation platform that connects brands and agencies with emerging technology to create breakthrough partnerships.
In 2011, after she literally ran from the law (don’t get the wrong idea – she was a lawyer by trade), Hoey joined the startup world and co-founded Women Innovate Mobile (WIM) with Deborah Jackson and Veronika Sonsev. It was the first tech accelerator program for mobile tech startups with gender diverse founding teams and the trio built an influential global community of founders, investors and women in tech in the process.
But wait! There’s more! She sits on the advisory boards of Levo League, Lion’esque Style, Best Fashion Friend, Notorious, BuzzTarget, xtgem, Glimpse and Hullabalu) and advisory boards of organizations/groups promoting the advancement of women and girls (SUNY Levin Institute’s Women Entrepreneurs & Investors Program, Girls Who Code, Hastings Leadership Academy) and was recognized by Forbes both as one of the Five Women Changing the VC World as one of 40 Women to Watch Over 40.
What can we say besides (adoring her as we do): that’s a lot of Hoey. And a whole lot of awesome!
Keep up with Kelly:
Fred Wilson, Co-founder, Union Square Ventures
Would any list of awesome be complete without Fred Wilson? He’s been an investor in New York tech since the early days of Web 1.0, with his Flatiron Partners (founded in 1996), and a global figure in the VC world with his Union Square Ventures, which he founded in 2004 with Brad Burnham. Wilson was named the #1 Venture Capitalist by Heardable in its 2012 report on the Top 50 leading brands in venture capital and of course made the list of 50 VC and Angel Investors Every Entrepreneur Should Know.
Despite maintaining one of the busiest schedules, Fred provides the world daily with candid insights and often an untold perspective into the world of venture capital at his hugely popular blog – a must read for any entrepreneur.
Here is a tale told by Brad Feld of Fred’s willingness to help others in the space. There are a hundred more stories like this.
Keep up with Fred:
Image credit: CC by Lachlan Hardy
Haithem Elembaby, Entrepreneur in Residence / Event Producer at AlleyNYC
Haithem is another one of those people on the scene in NY tech who’s on a first name basis with the community.
Haithem has worked with everyone from students and aspiring entrepreneurs to startups and Fortune 500 companies, and from the shakers to the movers. Speaking of which, at AlleyNYC, he maintains key relationships within the community, producing and promoting special events and providing marketing support and relevant experiences for entrepreneurs, connecting them with key influencers within business, culture & technology. In plain English: He’s a connector who has been known to throw some of the coolest events at some of the hottest venues in NYC.
But he’s not new to event planning, especially for NYC startups. He was also Founding Member and headed biz dev for NYC based event-planning platform, Do It In Person. And remember his party on the boat? It was one of the largest NYC startup networking events, maybe ever.
But did you know that he’s also a part-time student at NYU’s Stern School of Business, working on his MBA? Or that he’s member & volunteer for Habitat for Humanity? It takes a special kind of guy, and that’s what makes Haithem awesome.
Keep up with Haithem:
Image credit: Facebook
Matt Turck, Partner, FirstMark Capital
Matt Turck is another New York investor who always makes time to speak on panels, and review startups at the numerous pitching events around the city. We’ve personally been in the room to catch his very informed opinions at Entrepreneurs Roundtable, Ultralight Startups’ Investor Feedback Forum, Global Innovators and Orrick Total Access – and that’s just for starters.
A partner at FirstMark Capital and the previous Managing Director at Bloomberg Ventures, Turck is a mentor at Techstars NYC, DreamIt New York, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, First Growth Venture Network and NYC Venture Fellows. And he also finds the time to organize of two large monthly tech community events, Data Driven NYC and Hardwired NYC.
Did we mention that he’s an angel investor as well?
We don’t know when he finds the time to sleep, but all of the energy he devotes to the New York startup scene is just awesome!
Keep up with Matt:
Image credit: CC by datadays2012
Andrew Young, Co-Founder, Swill
We are not sure where to start when it comes to describing Andrew Young. He’s a busy man who’s working on a number of different things and often has a seemingly endless list of other projects in the pipeline. By day, Young is the co-founder of the NYC startup SWILL, a delivery service for alcohol, which alone makes him awesome. Aside from his responsibilities at Swill, Andrew is a staple on the startup event circuit and is the lead organizer for the various Startup Weekends in NYC and is a global facilitator representing this great city. He’s also teaming up with OS Fashion’s Pavan Bahl to launch a global Startup Weekend Fashion battle, with competitions in New York, London, Milan and Paris.
Young is also an ambassador for WeWork and leads the NYC Reddit Meeetup.
Young can often be found letting loose in a banana suit that is now his signature and has become a part of the NYC startup culture.
And that alone is awesome.
Keep up with Andrew:
Image credit: Facebook
Andrew Ackerman, Managing Director, DreamItNY
Angel investor, mentor and writer (for AlleyWatch, no less, his busy schedule permitting), Andrew Ackerman is Managing Director of DreamIt NY, after assuming the day-to-day responsibilities earlier this year from now Managing Director Emeritus Mark Wachen.
Everything Ackerman has done has led up to his assuming the mantle at DreamIt.
He began his career as a consultant to Fortune 100 companies and quickly turned his attention to tech, when he worked for Kaplan Online. Later, Ackerman joined the founding team of Bunk1.com and built the company into the leading provider of web services in the summer camp industry. He went on to manage a family office, where he was responsible for managing over $50M in alternative assets, as well as incubating new ventures.
An angel investor whose passion has always been startups, he mentored at both DreamIt and ER Accelerator before deciding to just get it over with and accepted his current position.
A graduate of Johns Hopkins, Ackerman also holds an MBA from the University of Chicago.
Keep up with Andrew:
Brian Cohen, Chairman, New York Angels
Brian Cohen is not only Chairman of the New York Angels. He’s also considered the father of science and technology communications, having founded tech PR agency Technology Solutions, Inc. in 1983 (and bought by the McCann Erikson Worldgroup in 1997). And he’s been supporting startup tech companies, primarily in New York, ever since.
He is also author of What Every Angel Investor Wants You To Know: In Insider Reveals How To Raise Money For Your Billion-Dollar Idea, and can frequently be found on one investor panel or other dispensing pearls of wisdom in any given fortnight in New York. Then again, he has always been generous with his time and happy to give advice and share his experiences with entrepreneurs.
He’s a rainmaker and so is his boat, Rainmaker, an ocean-worthy catamaran, which may be one of the reasons you haven’t seen Cohen speaking on quite as many panels as usual, of late. Look, he recently co-founded a company called Launch.it with son, Trace. We should have suspected… But summer will be over soon enough and Cohen will once again be one of the biggest New York tech community supporters, investors and mentors on dry land.
Keep up with Brian:
Image credit: CC by Magnify.net
Pavan Bahl, Founder, Open Source Fashion
New York is been a town driven by fashion long before the first week Fashion Week in 1943. In fact, according to a report by the Global Language Monitor, New York was named the Fashion Capital of the World in 2014, and Pavan Bahl is one of the centers of New York’s fashion tech world. As it should be: he’s one of the innovative thinkers and more importantly doers who is leading the movement of fashion into the digital generation, and again known by one and all simply as ‘Pavan.’ He has built a global community through OS Fashion, a platform that brings together a community of helpful innovators working within fashion, retail, and technology. In addition, to regular events OSFashion hosts a unique Freestyle Conference twice a year that brings in the luminaries from all over the fashion tech world.
As if that isn’t enough, Pavan has now teamed up with with Andrew Young to launch a global Startup Weekend Fashion battle, with competitions in New York, London, Milan and Paris.
Pavan is one of the nicest, most genuine people we have ever had the pleasure of meeting within the NYC ecosystem – and he is a master connector. If you are doing anything in the fashion space, this is the awesome guy you need to know.
Keep up with Pavan:
Image credit: Albert Cheung Photography
Lori Hoberman, Partner, Chadbourne & Parke, Chair, MIT Enterprise Forum NYC
Is there a New York tech event organizer who doesn’t know Lori Hoberman? Finding a space to hold an event is always a challenge, and Hoberman, a partner at Chadbourne & Parke and chair of the firm’s Emerging Companies / Venture Capital practice, always comes through.
She also chairs the MIT Enterprise Forum’s New York Chapter, is a mentor at Socratic Labs, a New York-based education-technology accelerator, and a mentor at 37 Angels, a New York-based network of women investors committed to funding early stage startups. Speaking of getting them early, this past summer, Hoberman (and her team) selected 17 New York City public high school girls and piloted a program where instead of internships, they learn what it’s like to be an entrepreneur and start a business. Awesome!
Keeup with Lori:
Brad Hargreaves & Matt Brimer, Cofounders, General Assembly
First they started coworking space General Assembly (along with partners Adam Pritzker and Jake Schwartz) over on Broadway, and suddenly, coworking was cool. It wasn’t long before they expanded to other cities and countries – not to mention a second location in New York City. But ever the innovators, it was long after that before they pivoted into the education space. Of course, it isn’t your typical educational institution: all of the teachers are entrepreneurs and/or people who’ve worked in the startup space. Nothing institutional about that – and as it should be.
School is now in session in 18 locations in 12 cities around the world.
It wasn’t the first time they ‘pivoted’: General Assembly was originally named Super Conductor.
But it seems Brimer just can’t sit still. Literally. Now he’s doing Daybreakers, a self-described ‘morning movement that will start your day off unlike anything else,’ and ‘movement’ is the operative here. It’s an early morning (7 am) party where revelers dance the early morning rush hour away. No alcoholic beverages are served, so expect a virgin screwdriver, aka orange juice, straight up. It’s a great idea and hell of a lot more inspiring than dragging yourself to the gym for your morning workout. Awesome!
Keep up with Brad:
Keep up with Matt:
Murat Aktihanoglu, Managing Partner, Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator
Technologist, author, entrepreneur and investor, who in New York doesn’t know whom you mean when you say the name, ‘Murat?’ He’s one of the few people in tech in New York who’s easily identifiable by the mention of just his first name.
Ok, so his last name is a mouthful, and usually mispronounced and for the record, phonetically, it’s ‘Aktihanaloo.’
Currently the Founder and Managing Director at Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator, Murat Aktihanoglu is one of the true backbones – and moving forces – of the New York tech community.
Never mind that ERA has fostered 60+ early stage companies in its brief existence. The accelerator was inspired by Entrepreneurs Roundtable itself, a non-profit Aktihanoglu launched in 2007 to help entrepreneurs and investors in New York connect through monthly pitch events. The event expanded to Tokyo, Istanbul and Philadelphia. Over 17,000 entrepreneurs and investors worldwide have attended the events.
He’s an advisor to The Startup Foundation, and the MIT Enterprise Forum of NYC, a Partner for US State Department’s Global Entrepreneurship Program, founder of the Turkish Technology Network, co-founder of the Turkish Founders Club, a board member at Turkish American Business Forum, an advisor to the Turkish Women’s International Network and co-author of the book, “Location-Aware Applications.”
If the always-approachable Aktihanoglu sometimes seems like a hard man to pin down, it’s only because he’s frequently on the road (or rather, in the air), on his way to consult with some government or other on entrepreneurship. Someone’s gotta do it and he certainly has the chops.
That’s Murat. And one of his favorite words is ‘Awesome.’
Keep up with Murat:
Image credit: Facebook
Kay Koplovitz, Founder, Springboard Enterprises
As if founding USA Networks wasn’t enough, Kay Koplovitz then launched the Sci-Fi Channel (now SyFy Channel – whatever), bringing smiles to the faces of techies everywhere. It doesn’t stop there – far from it. Koplovitz then created Springboard Enterprises to raise venture capital specifically for women entrepreneurs. And may we just add that companies selected and represented by Springboard have raised over $5.5 billion and have had positive liquidity events for investors, including IPOs.
And for the record, it was Koplovitz who launched major professional and collegiate sports on cable television by negotiating the first contracts and creating first cable coverage for Major League Baseball, the National Basketball Association, and the National Hockey League.
Her latest: Springboard Enterprises is one of the partners behind the New York Fashion Tech Lab, fostering early and growth stage companies that are innovating at the intersection of fashion, retail, and technology. All of which makes her legendary and nothing short of awesome!
Keep up with Kay:
Lori Cheek, Founder, Cheekd
With a fabulous Southern drawl (she’s originally from Kentucky) and infectious energy, everyone knows Lori Cheek – and probably at least one or two of you out there have been cheekd at one point or another. If you’re single, that is. In a perfect world.
The former architect is founder of cheekd, a reverse online dating site where subscribers buy a buy a deck of cards, complete with cheeky, ice breaking come on lines, and a unique link to the giver’s online profile. The hopefully interested parties first engage offline, then connect online, where the receiver will get more information about his/her potential paramour.
It might not have gotten the love when she pitched on ABC’s Shark Tank, but we heart Cheek, and that’s why they’re called sharks. Never one to give up on love, or helping other people in the New York startup community to find love and also not one who is likely to give up on her venture any time soon; she’s pivoting. Announcement coming this Fall. Awesome!
Keep up with Lori:
Image credit: K Preston Photography