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    10.20.17 CUBE Panel Imagines the Future of Workspace
    CUBE Panel Imagines the Future of Workspace

    Anyone in the real estate or technology industries in recent years has come across three terms that can sometimes be hard to disentangle from one another: incubator, accelerator, and coworking space. At a recent panel sponsored by the Center for Urban Business Entrepreneurship (CUBE) and P/PREP, a peer networking group for professionals who work on public-private real estate and economic development projects, alumni and other professionals in those industries sought to clarify the differences and similarities between these phenomena, and discuss their future.

    Professor Jonathan Askin, founder and director of the Brooklyn Law Incubator & Policy Clinic (BLIP), who served as a moderator for the panel discussion, explained that the clinic’s name is something of a misnomer. BLIP doesn’t incubate startups, but represents the incubators that do.

    “When I first started BLIP, incubator was a dirty word because of the first dot-com bubble,” Askin said.

    Now incubators, along with accelerators, which help startups get off the ground quickly and help with funding, and coworking spaces, which give individuals and small companies affordable places to work before they can afford offices, are some of the hottest trends in the real estate and technology industries, especially in Brooklyn.

    “We’re sensitive to all of those terms because we do aspects of all of them, but none of them really nails what we do,” said Rebecca Birmingham ’11, general counsel and head of development at New Lab/Macro-Sea in the Brooklyn Navy Yard, which is home to many small hardware-focused businesses. “There was not a space for hardware-centric startups to have a home base as well as the intangible resources that come with working among peers, so we created one. But we don’t have a curriculum like many accelerators and incubators do.”

    Mark Anthony Thomas, senior vice president of partnerships at the New York City Economic Development Corporation, said he thought of incubators, accelerators, and coworking spaces as each being a “celebration of high-growth ideas that have the potential to scale and become stand-alone companies.”

    That’s something Thomas works to cultivate at the EDC. Similar work is being done at the state level. Joseph Tazewell, the New York City regional director of Empire State Development, said ESD has seven incubator programs around the city covering both the capital and operations side of startup support. “We require a company have a three-year history, because we want to make sure they are a going concern,” Tazewell said. “Our goal is to create jobs for the people in the community.”

    At the Local Initiatives Support Corporation, Anisha Steephen, the community development director, also focuses on incubators, accelerators, and coworking spaces that create jobs, providing them real estate loans.

    Not everyone in the real estate industry is excited about all of these trends, however. Mark Jackson ’11, general counsel at developer Two Trees Management Co., said his company sees the battle between coworking spaces as “a race to the bottom.”

    “We don’t want to be involved in non-purpose-built incubators, where you don’t know what all of your tenants are doing,” he said. Still, even Two Trees has partnered with the NYCEDC and NYU-Poly to launch a tech startup incubator in the DUMBO neighborhood in Brooklyn.