Hi everyone, Spiffy here, your one and only interplanetary journalist reporting from Planet Earth. I’m thrilled to be talking to an entrepreneur working to make the world a better place through his work with New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC). Join me in welcoming Jonathan Lane, the Assistant Vice President and Director of Urbantech NYC. Are you ready to be inspired?
Spiffy: Welcome Jonathan, thanks so much for talking to me! Can you tell me about your work and the challenges you’re addressing?
Jonathan: Urbantech NYC is a set of programs that helps create whole new industries in New York City, specifically those that use technology to make systems like transportation, buildings, food, and energy better. I work with private businesses to get them to pay more attention to the environmental and social needs that the government cares about. I also work with the government (“public sector”) to build its “innovation muscle”, and learn how to improve the way it does what it wants to do for all New Yorkers.
Spiffy: So you might say that you help inspire improvements for the Big Apple? What motivated you to do it?
Jonathan: Well, Spiffy, the government spends a lot of money to figure out ways to make cities and society better for the people living in them. In New York City, that’s a lot of people—even before you include all the people that look to New York City to see what we’re doing to make things better. What motivates me to do this work is knowing how important the government’s work is, how big the opportunity is to do that work better, and the people that will be better served if the government is better able to do its work.
Spiffy: How would you say that you’re working to make the world a more equitable place?
Jonathan: For a long time, private businesses haven’t necessarily existed in order to do something nice for people—they exist to make money, but they often do nice things that also make money. My organization, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, works between government (that wants businesses to do more nice things) and businesses (that want to make money) in order to design an economy that fills gaps and helps overcome barriers for people that have traditionally not been able to benefit from economic growth in equitable, or sustainable, ways.
Spiffy: Has NYCEDC started any notable initiatives recently? What kind of impact have you noticed?
Jonathan: Last year, NYCEDC, the Mayor’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer, and the New York City Housing Authority (also known as NYCHA, the country’s largest municipal public housing agency) launched a program to provide broadband internet to NYCHA residents. When everyone was forced to stay home for work and school, these buildings often lacked broadband internet connections, which made work and studying almost impossible. Last month, NYC announced that five internet providers have agreed to extend broadband access to more than 30,000 residents in 13 NYCHA campuses, helping to bridge the “digital divide”.
Spiffy: Can you tell me about a startup or project you’ve worked with that exemplifies the impact you’re striving to make?
Jonathan: Recently, I worked with New York City Deputy Mayor Vicki Been to launch a “Proptech Piloting Initiative”. This initiative brings together over 491 million square feet of real estate that’s owned by the NYC government, and offers it to technology companies that are solving real estate challenges—for the purpose of “piloting” or trying out their tech for a period of time to see if it works. Not only is this good for the real estate tech industry, which now has lots of places where it can test out new ideas and solutions, but it’s also good for the government – who doesn’t have a strong “innovation muscle” – and for the people, like affordable and public housing residents, who often don’t see the benefits of tech.
Spiffy: Before we sign off, what is something unexpected you’ve learned recently?
Jonathan: In a world full of people trying to “fake it until you make it”, humility is a sign of strength. Only those that are truly strong, secure, and self-assured are able to acknowledge what they can’t and don’t know—even more so the higher up you go and the more people look to you for direction.
Spiffy: That is a helpful perspective to have, Jonathan. Thanks for sharing it with me, and thanks for taking the time to talk to me, it’s been an honor!
Jonathan Lane is Assistant Vice President/Director of Urbantech NYC at the New York City Economic Development Corporation. Prior to NYCEDC, Jonathan worked at the intersection of capital and economic opportunity in private, public, and nonprofit sectors. Jonathan has an MPA from Harvard University, an MBA from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and a BBA from Southern Methodist University. (First published on the Ladderworks website on June 3, 2021.)
© 2021 Ladderworks LLC. Edited by Jill Landis Jha. Spiffy’s illustration by Shreyas Navare. Follow Spiffy’s interviews of founders building a more equitable world here.