By Shawna Ohm
You’ve heard of Silicon Valley and Silicon Alley. What about Silicon Harlem? That’s the name of a new social venture in uptown Manhattan and it’s trying to make Harlem the center of New York’s tech scene.
“If we do this right, you’ll see things like incubators, co-working spaces, the best broadband – both wired and wireless,” says Silicon Harlem co-founder Clayton Banks. “Ultimately we have three objectives: bring down and eliminate crime… increase education opportunities and, of course, jobs.”
Nationally 12.4% of black men are unemployed, compared to just 6% of white men. The numbers aren’t much better for women – 11.3% of black women are unemployed, versus 6.3% of white women.
“Jobs are the lifeblood of any community,” says Banks. “The more we can get people engaged in jobs the better the community will thrive.”
That’s why Banks and his team are focused on tech. For every tech job created, four others follow, according to a recent study.
Silicon Harlem isn't the first time someone has tried to boost a neighborhood's tech profile. Zappos' founder Tony Hsieh has been attempting a similar revitalization of Las Vegas with his Downtown Project. He has spent hundreds of millions luring startups to set up shop in the downtown area.
For Banks, Harlem has already seen something of a renaissance. What his team is trying to do is support a burgeoning cultural scene.
“It's just one of the great parts of New York,” he said. “So to make that really sustained we have to have that business sector, we have to have the technology to make that happen.”
The first thing Banks' team focused on was boosting broadband in the neighborhood. Silicon Harlem worked with Verizon to boost broadband capabilities in buildings so that entrepreneurs could work with 3-D technology and have access to some of the fastest speeds in the city.
“We’ve seen companies come together and really start to formulate,” he said. “We’d like to see those companies spin out into major technology companies that are hiring thousands of people and become the next billion dollar type of company.”
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