The DNAinfo archives brought to you by WNYC.
Read the press release here.

Free Space and Tech Industry Mentors for Startups Willing to Move to Harlem

By Gustavo Solis | March 17, 2015 1:18pm
 A new business accelerator is trying to bring new startups to Harlem.
Cofound Harlem
View Full Caption

HARLEM — Calling all uptown tech entrepreneurs — a new business project is offering startups nine months of free office space and access to mentors from tech companies like GoogleVoxy and Genius.

The only catch is that the startups have to commit to staying in Harlem for at least five years.

The program, Cofound Harlem, was started by three young entrepreneurs this year. They are currently accepting applications for their inaugural class.

The idea is to make Harlem attractive to new businesses, said co-owner John Henry.

"We will certainly make our stamp in Harlem," he said. "I think it's going to quite visually impact the community. These companies are going to be using Harlem as their backyard to test their products. Their first prototypes, their first iterations of their products are all going to be tested here."

Henry, 22, moved his dry cleaning business to Harlem in 2013. The small startup grew into a personal concierge service that included housekeeping and dog walking.

Henry, who left college to run the business, had to learn a lot on the fly, he said.

"I spent thousands on direct mail advertising and didn't get anything out of it," he said. "When I started using Facebook I got a lot more value."

While different organizations in Harlem offer business workshops and seminars, they tend to focus on the basics. Startups that are further along need more specialized help like how to land distribution deals, secure funding and manage their brand, Henry said.

That’s where the idea for Cofound Harlem came from.

The 9-month program, valued at $50,000, is meant to be like a boot camp for startups, Henry said.

Participants will get access to legal experts, programmers, investor consultants, social media experts and copywriters. They will also be able to work with mentors from companies like Google, Genius and the New York Times.

One of those mentors is Dan Berger, who became Genius' first employee when it hired him as its marketing director. The website lets users annotate song lyrics, television shows, sports news and legal cases.

Berger created partnerships with BET and other media sources to showcase their products and managed the website's social media accounts which grew to 160,000 Twitter followers and 600,000 Facebook likes.

Currenty a community editor at MSNBC, Berger brings startup experience and social media expertise to Cofound. He was impressed with how committed they are to making business grow in Harlem, an area that isn't synonomous with the tech industry. 

"I think it’s great," he said. "I am pretty hooked into the New York tech scene and it is not the most diverse ethnically or socio-economically, so I think it’s cool that it will present more opportunities for a diverse group of people.”

Cofound teamed up with Artimus, a development company, and TEEM, a local coworking space, to give the startups free office space at 1463 Fifth avenue, Henry said.

He's excited to see what new things come out of the program.

“This whole accelerator is a community driven and project based effort so you learn by doing," Henry said. "It’s a very, very hands on program. It’s not very much like school, it’s learning by doing and connecting you with great people.

Once they are done, the startups are going to be headquartered in the neighborhood.

Cofound is looking into building partnerships with City College, Columbia University and Fordham University to connect students with potential jobs. 

By showing how Harlem can attract new businesses, more will want to come, Henry said.

“If we do our job in creating an environment that is conducive to business, then a company like BuzzFeed, a company like Tumblr a company like Airbnb is going to want to come here,” he said.