Last week, with live piano accompaniment, we launched the Urban Tech Hub at Newlab. It was an honor to join Newlab’s Co-founder and CEO, David Belt, New York City’s Deputy Mayor for Housing & Economic Development Alicia Glen, President of the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) James Patchett, Downtown Brooklyn Partnership President Regina Myer, and over 250 guests for the kick-off of the program and to celebrate our partnership with the NYCEDC.

The event encapsulates the mission of what we’re up to here at Newlab; serving as a dynamic platform where our community of entrepreneurs, engineers, and designers, the City of New York—including its elected officials, leading scholars, and CEOs—and stakeholders in the local community come together to ambitiously develop and deploy technology to address pressing urban challenges.  

As we recognize this partnership and celebrate what will come next, it’s an apt time to reflect on just what makes it all so critical.

For the first time in history, the majority of the world’s population lives in cities. With that number set to expand exponentially, the field of urban technology has never had greater potential to improve lives.

I’ve worked in the field of tech, innovation and cities for the better part of a decade now. Yet, crossing the threshold of Building 128, walking underneath the neon letters of our sign and into the steel-encased promise of the advanced technological future that Newlab embodies, marked a distinct and exciting turning point for me.

Prior to joining Newlab, I  was a founding member of Bloomberg Associates, a first-of-its-kind civic consultancy that works with cities to improve the quality of life for their citizens. In partnership with Mayors, Bloomberg Associates develops strategies for civic leaders to collaborate with the private sector, academia, and entrepreneurs to foster growth and opportunity for their city. Every city we partnered with, from London to Rio de Janeiro, Oakland to Mexico City, Athens to Paris and Los Angeles, saw tech and innovation hubs forming in their cities and understood they would be an essential part of their future.

Beyond the buzz of being dubbed the ‘next Silicon Valley,’ these growing communities represented something significant to each Mayor: 21st century jobs and an ecosystem built on the understanding that harnessing the potential of technology will be the key to economic prosperity. Today, Newlab is the most direct and unique manifestation of these values that I’ve seen.

When David Belt first visited the future home of Newlab in 2011, it was a skeleton from a bygone era of New York manufacturing and had been in disuse for three decades; at this time I was serving in the City of New York. In our own way, both of us were already part of a movement to help New York become a leading city for technology. Paramount to this strategy was recognizing that New York’s tech entrepreneurs needed access to talent, capital and real estate as well as the assurance that their city cared about their businesses. Newlab signifies the potential of so many years of collectively imagining what was possible for New York City.

Newlab is impactful not only to the designers, engineers and entrepreneurs who are building their products here, but to the City itself. Now, Newlab has the potential to imagine public-private partnerships for the betterment of cities in new ways. Taking what we’ve learned from our partnership with the City of New York, we’ll be exploring partnerships with Copenhagen, Denmark and Barcelona, Spain in the coming year.

The Urban Tech program is a big part of Newlab’s ambition to be a portal for new possibilities—an effective platform for growth-stage companies to tackle issues ranging from the future of energy to the evolution of agriculture. I’m equally inspired by the creative and boundary-pushing ways our members are building their products and the way they thoughtfully approach the humanist potential of their work, driving towards a more sustainable, resilient and equitable future.

Made possible by the visionary public-private leaders who recognize the need for space, tools, and resources to serve innovators working to develop tech-backed solutions to benefit New York City, and cities across the globe, Newlab is an unprecedented offering, and one that has never been more urgently needed.

Newlab is exactly where I always wanted to be, it just didn’t exist yet.