Start-ups flock to Queens

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Elias Roman, co-founder of Songza, works at his desk in his Long Island City office.THE COURIER/Photo by Alexa Altman
Elias Roman, co-founder of Songza, works at his desk in his Long Island City office.

Tech start-up companies, escaping steep Manhattan rents and expanding Queens-born businesses, are setting up shop in Long Island City.

“It has a pioneering and innovative spirit,” said Coalition for Queens founder Jukay Hsu of the neighborhood’s energy.

The creator of the non-profit organization, responsible for fostering the tech community in the borough through raising awareness and collaborating with entrepreneurs, said the area’s appeal lies in what’s been here all along: educated personnel and skilled designers.

According to Hsu, the city suffers a shortage of computer scientists, now offset by Queens College, which trains more students in computer sciences than any other school in the metropolitan area. Hsu also said Long Island City’s reputation as a design center attracts tech companies searching for the vital aesthetic element.

A representative from LIC company Plaxall lists the average office space rent at between $15 and $25 per square-foot. According to a representative from the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), current Manhattan rates for commercial spaces run around $59 per square-foot.

The Long Island City area is also regarded as a transportation hub, offering quick commutes to other business centers like Midtown Manhattan, Chelsea and the Financial District.

The Queens Tech Meetup, a monthly gathering hosted by the Coalition for Queens – brings together members from the technology community to collaborate in Long Island City.

While newer companies, such as Songza — an online music-listening service — are initiating and growing their businesses in Queens, major companies like Publicis, a worldwide public relations firm, are also migrating to Long Island City spaces.

“It’s about having existing companies grow and it’s about encouraging people to innovate,” said Hsu. “We want to help all these efforts and initiatives.”

Hsu claims the expansion of the technology sphere into Queens will affect not just the technology world, but industries including media and health care as well.

“We hope [the technology boom] can bring Queens and New York into the future,” he said.

Shapeways, a custom 3-D printing company based in Manhattan, is currently in the middle of lease negotiations, on its way to opening a factory in Long Island City. Director of marketing Carine Carmy said the massive space available and city-provided incentives drove Shapeways to move operations to Queens. The company’s distribution center is already located in Hunters Point and Carmy hopes the move will centralize business for its high concentration of east-coast based customers.

“We’ve been thinking about it,” said Carmy of the possibility of Shapeways’ 28th and Park headquarters migrating to LIC. “There are definitely benefits in having our offices more condensed.”

Elias Roman, Queens native and co-founder of Songza, said LIC has always been a top choice as the home base for his “music concierge” company, with proximity to Manhattan and community connectivity as just starting points.

“[Long Island City] has a great, fun start-upy vibe,” said Roman. “It’s exciting to see it grow while you’ve been growing … Theres no better place in the world to be than here.”