Society and technology are bringing changes so fast it can be hard to keep up with them, but a series of conversations happening in Williamsburg this week got listeners up to speed. The 10th edition of the annual Northside Music & Innovation Festival kicked off this week with panels on subjects ranging from media and marketing to the experience of being a woman in commercial real estate. Many of the panels featured speakers from Brooklyn-based businesses and organizations, showcasing the diversity of business in the borough.
The music component of the festival is staging more than 50 concerts in venues around Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick, featuring artists like BEARCAT, Deerhoof, milo, and Mndsgn. The innovation part of the festival features talks and panels about the latest trends in business, marketing, technology, and media. In its mixture of conversations and concerts, Northside is Brooklyn’s answer to Austin’s SXSW. Highlights from the first day of innovation talks:
“The Women Who Built Brooklyn”
The real-estate development industry is predominantly male, but several women have emerged as industry leaders. Three who have headed major projects in Brooklyn gathered to share their experiences. “It’s really tough to be in a male-dominated industry, regardless of whether it’s real estate or finance or fashion,” said Toby Moskovits, CEO of Heritage Equity Partners, the developer of the Williamsburg Hotel. “For women to be successful, they have to work much harder, and they have to do things differently.”
Regina Myer, president of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, recalled her days as director of the Department of City Planning’s Brooklyn office. “Developers and agencies came to us with problems, and we were always very solution-oriented, and solved them within a proposed timeframe. In a way, I attribute this to being a parent,” she said. “I think a lot of the skills I learned at home are skills that I transferred to the workplace. When you get home, you have to solve problems, whether it’s the kids, or the household.”
The panelists, who included Industry City Director Kathe Chase, commented on the future hotspots of real estate around Northern Brooklyn. “We’re going to see a lot of development focused on bringing workers into the innovation economy in Williamsburg, and moving into Greenpoint, East Williamsburg, and Bushwick,” said Moskovits. She cited Greenpoint’s A/D/O shared workspace as well as the new commercial complex at 25 Kent Ave., (a project that her company worked on) as examples of new developments that will house companies in such fields as artificial intelligence, blockchain technology, manufacturing, and food innovation.
Myer spoke about her vision for Downtown. “The high-rise residences in Downtown Brooklyn have given a whole new level of vibrancy on the street,” she said. “Now the challenge is that commercial office space really comes along in response to what is happening in the rest of Brooklyn.”
“Preparing for Monumental Changes in Tech”
Caterina Fake, an investor and co-founder of Flickr, spoke about the importance of tech startups not compromising their values while looking for investment. As an early investor in Etsy and Kickstarter, both Brooklyn-based companies, she observed how the founders’ values had became a strategic part of the companies. “At Kickstarter, their ethos was built into their strategy from the beginning. They were very careful when they were choosing their investors, but it’s a much harder route, because not everybody can afford to do that,” she said.
While Etsy has struggled to stick to the ideology of its founders, Fake said the venture-capital environment is growing more accepting of founders who want to be more socially responsible. “In 2004, VCs didn’t look like me,” she said. “The fig leaf of meritocracy in Silicon Valley was always biased against people from different backgrounds, people of color, and women. Now the tide has has turned in favor of people like me,” she said.
“The Future of Now”
A major theme in this year’s festival is emerging media technologies like virtual and augmented reality (VR and AR). In a panel on “capturing and captivating your audience using tech and new media,” industry leaders spoke about their latest projects with rapidly emerging technologies.
Graham Roberts, director of immersive-platforms storytelling at the New York Times, demonstrated several AR projects that the Times experimented with or published on the newspaper’s iPhone app. One was an experiment which places samples of President Trump’s planned border wall around you for an up-close look, and another which places life-size mannequins wearing some of David Bowie’s famous outfits that you can examine closely. The latter was done in partnership with the Brooklyn Museum, which is currently exhibiting David Bowie is.
Layne Braunstein, co-founder of Fake Love, a Brooklyn-based ad agency that specializes in immersive storytelling, spoke about how companies are willing to spend more and more money for VR and AR content. Johanna Salazar, co-founder of Two Goats, an “immersive creators studio,” succinctly captured how cutting-edge this space is. “Working on these projects is exciting,” she said, “but also tough, because people come to us and ask for examples of things that have never been done before.”
The panels are continuing through today at the Wythe Hotel, Williamsburg Hotel, and the William Vale.