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Dumbo waning? Where will Brooklyn tech’s ‘center of gravity’ be next?

Dumbo was once the easy answer. But that's quickly becoming more complicated, as discussed at a Brooklyn stakeholder breakfast last week.

A familiar view of the Manhattan Bridge from Dumbo. (Photo by Flickr user Wally Gobetz, used under a Creative Commons license)
In the 10 years of growth in what could be called the Brooklyn tech community, it has been always pretty clear where its densest heart was: Dumbo. But that’s getting more complicated.

The artists that gave Dumbo its name gave way to the creative agencies. Huge was one of the first and largest creative agencies in Dumbo to see itself as a tech firm, as it gobbled up technologists and hosted meetups to help find them. Huge helped usher in today’s more familiar entrepreneurial set that took up flexible office space in the buildings that make up the cultural center of Dumbo.
But that’s changing quickly.
A new kind of Brooklyn tech triangle has emerged outside of downtown and Dumbo, with Kickstarter in Greenpoint, Livestream in Bushwick and Makerbot’s primary manufacturing footprint in Sunset Park. Early-stage companies have grumbled enough about rent prices that they’re moving — there’s been turnover at both 10 and 20 Jay Street.

The closing of the Dumbo Arts Festival is like a canary in a coal mine.

“As the tech community ages, we’re going to have to end up elsewhere,” said Raul Gutierrez, the founder of edtech startup Tinybop, who recalled grittier days in 10 Jay. “You start to take your kid to baseball games, and you start really living in Brooklyn.”
It looks like Dumbo is entering its next phase.
“Where will the center of gravity of Brooklyn tech be?” asked John Coghlan, the founder of Dumbo Startup Lab and clearly interested in the future of the neighborhood as an innovation corridor. (Full disclosure: Brooklyn works out of DSL.) Coghlan’s comments came at a recent Brooklyn stakeholder breakfast held last week.
“You need not just a company but a truly open company to build density around,” said Brooklyn Bridge Ventures investor Charlie O’Donnell. He, too, had offices in Dumbo but has moved. “You can see some of that in Livestream,” with their Livestream Public events initiative.
Recently food delivery startup Good Eggs moved its facilities elsewhere in Bushwick (and announced layoffs).
Commercial vacancy rates have only gotten lower in downtown Brooklyn, said Vivian Liao, of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership. What was 8 percent just a few years ago is now below 3.5 percent, she said. The goal of the originally conceived Brooklyn Tech Triangle, an initiative of which DBP is a leader, is to foster and maintain a density of technologists and entrepreneurs to foster collaboration and retention.
But that’s getting harder. The successes now are expansions of larger firms — Etsy expanding in not-so-far Dumbo Heights, for example. What is new and early-stage in tech appears to be drifting farther away, with a few exceptions.
There isn’t anything new about different communities attaching to a place enough that they push themselves out. It’s something that happens around the country. It just seems to happen so much faster here.
The A/C train is still a transit spine through various fledgling innovation clusters but the result appears to be an inevitable conclusion to the success of “the Brooklyn brand.”
“The closing of the Dumbo Arts Festival is like a canary in a coal mine,” said Justin Hendrix, the executive director of the NYC Media Lab in downtown Brooklyn. “We risk the corporatization of Dumbo.”

Companies: Livestream / Dumbo Startup Lab / Good Eggs / Huge / Downtown Brooklyn Partnership / Etsy / Kickstarter /
Series: Brooklyn

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