Immigrant entrepreneurs are a key part of NYC’s economy and corporate leaders have contributed millions to help new businesses grow
After a successful career in investment banking in New York and London, in 1999 Maria Gotsch joined the Partnership for New York, where today she administers the Partnership Fund for New York City, a capital pool of roughly $120 million devoted expressly to help grow the New York City economy and improve the lives of its citizens. “I have the best job in New York City,” she says.
The capital in the Partnership Funds comes from corporate contributors, typically in $1 million increments, but unlike most funds, the contributors to the Partnership Fund don’t expect their money back. “It’s set up as an evergreen fund,” Gotsch explains. “When any returns come back to our funds; they aren’t distributed to our investors. They are reinvested in other worthwhile projects.”
The Partnership Fund may be privately funded, but they have a civic mission to create jobs in New York. Rather than provide direct investment, which would be beyond their capacity to administer, the Partnership Fund has focused their efforts on working with non-profit organizations with interests aligned with theirs.
Immigrant entrepreneurs are a key part of our economy and it’s ability to maintain forward momentum
Opportunities for Immigrants and Immigrant Entrepreneurs
For example, they provided early capital to Grameen America, micro-lenders that have a model based on a very successful operation in Bangladesh. Grameen loans up to $6,000 to help individuals get started in their businesses, and approximately 80% of their clients are immigrants. With the help of the Partnership Fund, Grameen America is now located in New York and five other cities around the country.
Since small business is a significant employer of immigrant workers, the Partnership Fund has invested $5 million in a Brooklyn non-profit called Greenpoint Manufacturing and Design Center. GMDC is a non-profit real estate developer, and their mission is to provide affordable space for manufacturing and artisan business in the city. They’ll find a building, rehab it, and then lease it out at slightly below market rates, thereby providing the space for smaller businesses, many of them owned by immigrant entrepreneurs.
“Immigrant entrepreneurs are a key part of our economy and it’s ability to maintain forward momentum,” says Gotsch. “The key thing from our perspective is their proclivity toward starting a business is higher than the non-immigrant population.”
Multi-ethnic breads from Hot Bread Kitchens
To further stimulate this proclivity, the Partnership Fund has also invested in a number of small businesses with what it calls “heavy immigrant overlays,” such as Red Rabbit, a company that provides farm fresh foods to charter schools throughout the city. Red Rabbit was founded by a native of Jamaica, who, like Maria Gotsch, got his early experience in the financial sector. Another example of direct investment is Hotbread Kitchens, which trains immigrants in the bakery business, provides jobs, and also acts as an incubator for new businesses.
Watch: Fund for NYC Invests in Moonshine
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Stimulating New Sectors of the Economy
The Partnership Fund is also investing in what Gotsch refers to as “catalyzing the growth of new sectors of the economy.” For most of the fund’s history, this has meant fostering development in the technology space through NYC Seed, a joint venture with the State of New York and NYU.
We’re not investing where the action is, so much as we’re trying to get the action to start.
After the financial meltdown in 2008, angel investing dried up in New York, and NYC Seed stepped up to provide seed capital to tech entrepreneurs, helping to keep them, and tech jobs in New York City. Fast-forward to 2013, and seed capital is no longer an issue in New York City for tech startups. So, the Partnership Fund will not be investing additional capital in this area. “We very much take the approach that once something begins to work, we pull back, because then the private sector is doing its job,” says Gotsch.
Commercializing the Sciences Through Infrastructure
Where is the Partnership Fund placing its bets today? The answer lies in the life sciences, engineering, bio-medical research, cleantech, material science, and financial technology.
The VCs come to New York from California with three things: a bag of cash, a CEO, and a moving van.
New York City has many world-class universities and medical researchers, and by any conventional metric, the city ranks one, two or three compared to Boston, Cambridge or the Bay Area in biomedical research. But New York has never excelled at commercialization of these assets. Traditionally what happens, according to Gotsch, is that when it comes time to commercialize it, the enterprise gets spun off and taken somewhere else. Says Gotsch, “when we got into this, we were told that the VCs come to New York from California with three things: a bag of cash, a CEO, and a moving van.”
To address this situation, the Partnership Fund worked closely with the city and the academic community to help create infrastructure, specifically wet lab space. The result of this collaboration was the Alexandria Center for Life Sciences on 29th street, the city’s first life science office park, and this September, the New York Genome Center was opened in lower Manhattan.
Three years ago, the Fund launched the Bi-Celerate Center Program. According to Gotsch, the logic was that they needed lab space first, and then they needed to fill it. The Bi-Celerate Program was focused on providing proof of concept research to academics while they were still at university. The idea was to provide the last money they need to prove out the commercial potential.”