Hugo Barreca is a management, finance, and legal affairs consultant to companies in the philanthropic, public and private sectors. As CFO and General Counsel to both large public corporations as well as privately held companies, his responsibilities have included capital and financial management, investment strategy, board-level strategic planning, and supervision of legal services. He holds an MBA from New York University, a Juris Doctor from the Fordham School of Law, and a Master’s Degree in Public Policy from CUNY Graduate Center, where he is currently completing his PhD in Political Science. Mr. Barreca also serves as director of several NYC-based non-profit foundations.
Newborn companies usually go through six stages from conception to their final outcome. They either mature into viable organizations or they outlive their capital and fail. Public policies that try to promote new startup companies typically focus either on improving the overall market environment or promoting investment at specific stages in the life of a firm. Both kinds of policies, however,often pay little attention to the specificities of the startup life cycle or focus only on a few visible stages, leaving eighty percent of startups to fail. This happens because these policies focus on the subset that prospers in private markets rather than recycling the energy of workers and entrepreneurs in entities that are likely to fold.
This dissertation will explore and compare policies in three different cities and will draw lessons from them for future policy practices: NYC offers a traditional package of local policies combined with amenities, educated workers and zeitgeist; Vancouver draws new capital with a national program of investment underwriting; and Barcelona directly intervenes in failing companies through programs that attempt to re-start enterprises that would otherwise close.
What public policies should New York City employ to support technology startups? Because startup companies are drivers of jobs, wealth, and economic growth, I first thought that promotion of more new companies would be the best solution: more startups would mean more success. After researching this issue, I now suspect that startup companies self-generate without government help, given intellectual and creative concentrations in urban areas. Yet most startups fail and their participants dissipate. If there was an efficient way to recycle that knowledge and creativity back into the economy, it would save jobs and reduce waste, and might encourage more startups because of perceived reduced risk.
New York City has a rich startup environment, with policies devoted to education and housing to accommodate the growing workforce and to invest in the current “ecosystem” (Global Startup Ecosystem Report, EDC, April 2018). By comparing two other cities’ approaches (Vancouver and Barcelona), I could explore alternatives to this policy. A Canadian program called Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative attracts capital into Canadian cities by matching private investment with public funds: one public dollar for every two private dollars in approved projects. This additional capital de-risks the investment for the participants. This summer I was able to interview a director of that program in Vancouver, which has a vigorous startup community. When we spoke on the phone, he agreed this initiative did attract capital, but also conceded that it encouraged “stupid money” to be invested in startups that might not otherwise pass muster. I am currently trying to quantify the success and failure ratios of the companies initiated through that program. I have also been invited to Vancouver to meet more people in the program and to secure raw data about its activities.
On the opposite end of the business life cycle, Barcelona hosts a program called Re-empresa (or Restart) that seeks to match up new investment and new labor with firms that would otherwise close. I had several Skype calls with the program director, who proposed to their Board of Directors that I be given access to their raw data gathered during the program. This permission was granted and I signed a Memorandum of Understanding prepared by their legal department. Their data analyst is putting data into tabular format for my use. It will include the metrics of the program’s applicants, its successes, the economic impact of the program, and the demographics of the participants. I have also been invited to visit their program in October.
One disappointment over the course of my research has been trying to get data on New York’s own Economic Development Corporation. The EDC should be a great source of data about the startup ecosystem, but despite a lot of available research at the GC library, it is almost impossible to find peer-reviewed research or any scholarly reports on the outcome of EDC policies. My advisor recently made personal introductions to two economic analysts at the EDC, and I’ve been in contact with them to set up an appointment to get access to data on the outcomes of this main driver of NYC’s economic policy. There are private research data about startups but I would like to add the EDC’s view of its own city.