[por Nepal Asatthawasi]
NYDesigns is an economic development program embedded within the City University of New York (CUNY), the largest publicly-funded urban university system in the United States, with 23 institutions spread across the city’s five boroughs. NYDesigns was founded in 2004 to support the economic competitiveness of design and creative businesses in New York through research, counseling, education, and technical assistance. We are not an academic or degree-granting body despite our university affiliation; we mobilize our resources towards making New York a great business environment and resource for the creative industries.
Since its inception, NYDesigns has served over 9,000 design entrepreneurs and professionals in the greater New York City area. Our headquarters are located in Long island City, Queens, historically an industrial zone situated across the East River from midtown Manhattan. Long Island City is currently home to the city’s highest concentration of manufacturing activity, but the area itself is diverse. Manufacturing zones intersects with districts of high-rise residential properties; cultural amenities such as the globally-recognized PS 1 Contemporary Art Museum (an outpost of the Museum of Modern Art), the Sculpture Center, and 5Pointz (a warehouse and commercial loft building that is the world’s foremost pilgrimage site for graffiti, New York City’s homegrown art form); film and television production facilities such as Silvercup Studios, the fantasy abode of shows such as the Sopranos and Sex and the City; and a density of artist studios and specialty manufacturing. Long Island City has also been designated a high-technology growth zone by the city through its proximity to Roosevelt Island, a floating sliver of land in the East River that will be the new home for Cornell University’s new technology campus. The City expects the Cornell development to shift the density of technology and technology-related companies to this region of Queens. It is in this milieu in which NYDesigns operates.
There are approximately 1,400 business incubation programs in 2011, up from around 1,100 in 2006. NYDesigns, like the majority of these programs, follows the traditional incubation model, operating as a nonprofit agency that has job creation and other economic-development goals as its core missions. NYDesigns is the only program on the East Coast of the US to prioritize design and creative entrepreneurship in its mission.
We currently run four primary initiatives out of NYDesigns. The first is also our longest-running and most visible product – the NYDesigns Residency Program. Residency comes with a partially subsidized studio space within NYDesigns headquarters, a converted loft in a former 19th century biscuit factory attached to one of the CUNY campuses. In addition to the studios, residents have access to meeting spaces without additional charge; priority booking with our rotating cast of consultants; optional discounted membership to our fabrication workshop; and regular strategy meetings with a team of in-house business development adviser. The community of likeminded friends and supporters within shouting distance is also an attractive proposition. NYDesigns greenlights an application based on studio availability; the strength and viability of the business plan; realistic financials; the design discipline’s over- or under-representation within the program; and a demonstrated need for assistance in order to advance the business. Companies successful with the application are accommodated at NYDesigns for up to three years. We do not take an equity share in our resident companies.
Residents have priority access to NYDesigns’ corps of expert consultants, but their services through NYDesigns are offered to any design entrepreneur. Our consultants maintain their own practices and include lawyers, financial planners, accountants, marketeers, social media strategists, microlenders and others who are experienced with small business issues and familiar with a creative sector audience. Every other week a rotation of consultants comes to NYDesigns to give free “office hours.” Residents and community members who desire to work with them beyond these hours are extended a sliding-scale discount off regular consulting rates. This program, entitled as Pro(s) Bono at NYDesigns, is free of charge and extends NYDesigns’ small business assistance services to a community wider than the cohort of residents.
Shared fabrication facilities are at a premium in New York: the square footage necessary to comfortably house large equipment inflates a bill that must also include the cost of equipment, permitting and conversion expenses to meet minimum use standards. NYDesigns’ fabrication workshop, located onsite, is open to residents and a select membership of non-resident users. It has a full range of tools and equipment standard to a full-service wood shop as well as digital fabrication technologies such as a large-format laser cutter and a 3D printer. A focus on fabrication is significant because it allows designers to be agile in their ideation and experimentation process. Available facilities enable creatively while saving considerable time and expense. The NYDesigns fabrication workshop is also plugged into the dense networks of small-manufacturing expertise in Long Island City.
A calendar of events, seminars and conferences round out our program offerings to creative businesses. They range from informal networking gatherings to events with more structured agendas targeting urgent issues in sustainability for design or the representation of different communities within the NYC design ecosystem.
In addition to the services NYDesigns provides to businesses, the office also conducts research into various developments relevant to NYC’s design economy at the request or backing of city agencies, politicians and community groups. We partner with other institutions to overlay the priorities of the creative industries on their distinct missions and agendas. In the recent past, we have launched an entirely separate workforce development program to prepare unemployed and underemployed New Yorkers to join the growing “Green Jobs” employment sector, in which a substantial number of positions are allied with the architecture, construction, building maintenance and landscaping industries.
The profile of NYDesigns’ creative business audience has undergone a gradual transformation since the early days. In the beginning, the majority of the resident firms were practice-based – the company principals are “consultants” proffering a distinct set of skills and expertise that were contracted out on a project-by-project basis. Companies operating by this model include architecture, product design, graphic design, web design or production design studios. They were joined eventually by product-centric companies that develop, market and distribute branded products or services. The business model for these companies revolved around a single or set of branded products. Technology companies, most of which follow this pattern, began to be considered for the residency program as they engaged in design, development and execution of branded products or experiences; had a strong prototyping component in their development process; and recruited heavily in the design disciplines.
While the profile of design jobs has shifted in New York over the past decade due to the emergence and growing dominance of new industries such as technology, the opportunities for designers and design entrepreneurs continue to grow. As long as this remains true, NYDesigns’ programs to enhance the entrepreneurial climate of design and creative businesses in New York will always respond to demand.