Near the beginning of his Urban Lab capstone presentation, 2L Frank Kearl directed his teachers and classmates to a slide featuring a map of the Bronx that showed three different-colored dots connected to form a triangle. The “Bronx Tech Triangle” featured one of the first Minority- and Women-owned Business Enterprise startup accelerators (MetaBronx), a city-funded business incubator (BXL), and Fordham University—core players that would, along with the educational platform The Knowledge House, form a sustainable, collaborative economic ecosystem that would not only unlock the borough’s tech minds of tomorrow but also create new markets and avenues of capital.
“Fordham can play a very integral role in turning this into a much more substantial and revolutionary change for the tech industry in the Bronx,” Kearl said during his presentation, referencing the space, knowledge, and access to business and legal services that the University could provide such a project.
The Urban Lab course, featuring Fordham Law students and master’s level urban studies students, marks the first University-wide applied research lab course on complex urban problems open to students of all disciplines, and highlights the University’s new Urban Consortium, started by University Professor Sheila Foster, faculty co-director of the Fordham Urban Law Center, and Professor Rosemary Wakeman, coordinator of the University’s Urban Initiatives.
The course not only teaches students how to apply analytical and substantive tools to reach outside their disciplines, Foster said, but also hopes to make a lasting mark on the borough where Fordham University began. The Urban Lab sought to answer how to apply the models of startup incubation and tech acceleration in underserved parts of the Bronx, a borough whose innovation economy and technology sector has lagged behind Manhattan and Brooklyn, Foster added.
“There have been a lot of efforts over the years to have our University play a larger part in the Bronx, and in the sense these projects have the potential to be realized, they could be transformative for the community where Fordham is situated,” Foster explained.
Students took field trips to the Bronx, including visits to MetaBronx and BXL, to research their projects and meet civic and business leaders. In doing so, they gained an understanding of the borough’s needs and opportunities for growth, said Kearl, whose project expands on groundwork laid by The Knowledge House, MetaBronx, and Mass Ideation. His proposal’s collaborative economic model aims to create shared ownership of common goods and technological resources in a way that ties the fates of all individuals and companies together so that every individual success benefits the community.
The capstone presentations focused on two types of projects: creating startup incubators in the Bronx and adapting existing startup incubators to address social justice questions in the borough. Participating students possessed neither prior experience with startup incubators nor the inner workings of the Bronx, but they all exhibited a strong willingness to learn about both and to engage in new forms of analysis and investigation, Wakeman said.
“The urban lab concept gave law students a chance to think from an urban studies framework and gave the urban studies students a chance to think of the legal ramifications of startup incubators and how they could be implemented in the Bronx and the challenges they would pose,” Wakeman noted.
In addition to Kearl’s Bronx Tech Triangle project, the Urban Lab’s other projects included the following:
- Rico Blando (GSAS) and Bowen Lu (GSAS) proposed IdeaFACTORY, which focused on development of mobile digital apps to improve healthcare services in the Bronx while strengthening the community’s existing network of creative youth. During their presentation, Blando and Lu used a 3D floor plan to illustrate how a co-working space would drive innovation among the IdeaFACTORY’s participants.
- Matiss Steinerts (GSAS) designed his community-based Re-Start-Up incubator to prevent Bronx ex-felons from recidivism and develop their natural entrepreneurial skills and business spirit via transformation of their personality, teaching, social, and business skills and deep involvement of community, family, and local businesses.
- Kevin Timoney (GSAS) proposed a Minority- and Women-Owned Business Enterprise (M/WBE) incubator for the Bronx that would be located in the Bergen Building and provide support to both traditional and tech-based companies in order to help them leverage contracts with New York City and create private sector opportunities. Timoney is a project manager for the New York City Mayor’s Office of Contract Services.
- 3L David Yearwood’s High School as an Entrepreneurial Epicenter project concluded that self-gentrification through academic advancement offered the most feasible path to raising the median income in the Bronx, and that students at Cardinal Spellman High School should be taught basic entrepreneurial skills so that they can reap the rewards when the Bronx becomes New York City’s next development hub.
Now that students have presented their projects, Foster said the next step would be to either work hands-on with partners to develop the ideas and secure funding, such as in the case of Kearl’s Bronx Tech Triangle idea, or to make the projects available for future development by graduate students at the Gabelli School of Business and other University partners.