September 2014

Global Entrepreneurship Coming Out Of New York City


In our work here at Microsoft, we focus on big social challenges that can be addressed through better technology and innovative thinking. Among our highest priorities are 1) spreading entrepreneurship and 2) delivering skills through innovative computer science education. Typically, we in New York focus our efforts on spreading these skills within our own community. But it’s important to remember that ours is a big world, and there are various challenges to be met and needs to be filled.

For any entrepreneur or group of innovators, New York City offers a fantastic launchpad for their efforts. A prime example is The Andela Institute, a NYC-based startup with a mission of “eliminating the global skills gap.” Founded by Jeremy Johnson, who previously co-founded the publicly-traded 2U, Andela just yesterday revealed its work to the public for the first time. The big announcement took place here in New York, where the company is headquartered.

Andela uses a fellowship model that allows talented young people with the aptitude but not the means to both learn and work at the same time, earning wages while growing their skills over time. The first class of Andela fellows has already been selected. From over 5,000 applicants, 28 talented young people in Lagos, Nigeria made it through. That’s an acceptance rate of roughly half a percent that is achieved through a mix of proprietary and third-party assessments to determine which of the applicants have the most aptitude to become great programmers.

“The caliber of talent at Andela ranks in the top 1% of all workers being assessed on our systems worldwide,” said Neil MacGregor, CEO of, a pre-employment assessment company. “Every Andela developer has a problem-solving ability in the top 5% of the workforce, making them among the brightest recruits anywhere. Simply put, Andela recruits are some of the most brilliant, driven, and detail-oriented developers we have ever seen.”

Some of these Fellows have already begun work. “Our Andela developer is fantastic,” said Bob Calise, CTO of Young Entrepreneur Council (YEC), a current Andela partner. “Brice is gifted, focused and responsive. I don’t need to micromanage him – I just give him a task and when I check back in, it’s done. I look forward to bringing on another Andela developer.”

It will be exciting to see Andela grow and refine its efforts. Complementing the many efforts occurring in classrooms across the US and around the globe, Andela promises to contribute valuable skills that improve lives and help to close the tech skills gap that many companies face.

As Microsoft continues to partner with the city, non-profits, schools, and other companies on closing the skills gap in our communities, Andela demonstrates the potential for entrepreneurs to create impact across boundaries and around the world. And there is no better place from which to do that than right here in New York.


New York Maker Week 2014 Wraps Up with Maker Faire

mf14ny-makerweek-ribbonWe had a great turnout Monday night to kick off Maker Week NYC (#MakerWeek). A wide range of folks came by our offices for a screening of Maker: the Movie, including MIT Media Lab’s Kate Darling, Shapeways designer evangelist Duann Scott, and multiple families traveling around the globe to attend Maker Week. If you missed the event, you can still get some friends together and watch the film on-demand at

That was just day one. In Brooklyn Tuesday night, John helped award the BigApps Grand Prize to New York maker startup Heatseek. And yesterday, we headed out to Queens for the Next Top Makers Popup.

Finally, we head into the big weekend of Maker Faire itself, billed as “the world’s largest show & tell”, and hosted on the grounds of the 1964 World Fair. We’re excited to walk around and take in the ingenuity.

Join us this week in celebrating the world’s tinkerers, builders, hackers, and thingsmiths.

the garage

Fun fact: Microsoft has a maker space of its own, known as The Garage. This “after-hours idea factory” gives Microsoft employees a place to work on hobby projects, like a gym for creative muscles.

Mayor de Blasio Announces BigApps Winners


Last night in Brooklyn, Mayor Bill de Blasio, newly-named NYC Chief Technology Officer Minerva Tantoco, Economic Development Corporation Chief Kyle Kimball, and hundreds of civic-minded community members gathered to celebrate the capstone event of BigApps NYC.  Now in its fifth year, the 2014 edition of BigApps NYC consisted of a series of workshops in the categories of Live, Work, Learn, and Play, held throughout the city over several months. New York City’s world-renowned open data initiative does more than just inspire, it produces impactful innovations from regular folks using data and technology to create meaningful solutions for their communities.

In a sign of Microsoft’s support for continued innovation in using data for good, I joined Mayor de Blasio on stage to present the award for best app in the Live category to Heat Seek NYC. The Heat Seek NYC team consists of seven forward-thinking doers, a number of whom developed their tech skills through the well-respected Flatiron School coding bootcamp. Combining these skills with insights into a real-world problem, the team produced a shining solution in a matter of months. The problem: too many New York City apartment buildings provide insufficient heat during cold winter days and nights, failing to meet their legal obligations to tenants and presenting a health risk for city residents. Heat Seek NYC devised and created mesh networks of low-cost, tamper-proof sensor boxes to relay real-time temperature data. This solution empowers residents with hard data on the temperature in their apartments and gives landlords the opportunity to quickly fix any heating outages. The Mayor was so impressed by the potential, that as soon as he learned about Heat Seek NYC he arranged a meeting with the Commissioner of the NYC Housing and Preservation Department.

Other winners announced by the Mayor included Coursekicker (walked away with first place in the Learn category), NYCHired (won in the Work category), and Explore NYC Parks (honored in the Play category).

Technology can empower people to change the world for the better. BigApps NYC is a great example of that. Civic innovation doesn’t come from some other people in some other place. It comes from us, right here. New York City has an incredible history of innovation and it has an exciting present, in which entrepreneurship, technology, and community are combining in powerful new ways.

The future? That’s up to us.

Kick off Maker Week with a Free Film Screening at Microsoft

Maker movie

Move over, fashion! Next Monday, September 15th marks the beginning of New York City’s Maker Week, which will be a citywide celebration of cutting-edge fabrication technologies and the creative maker spirit, culminating in MakerCon and the World Maker Faire New York. Come join us at our brand new Times Square headquarters at 7 PM for a free screening of the crowdfunded documentary Maker: The Movie. This is the first installment in the Microsoft Film Festival, an ongoing effort that will present ideas related to civic innovation to audiences here in New York through the highly accessible medium of movies. We’ll also share info on all of the great events taking place during Maker Week (with snacks and drinks provided).

If you’d like to join us, please RSVP to with your full name, and we’ll get back to you with a confirmation that provides details for getting into the event.

Watch the Maker trailer:

Maker Trailer from Muris on Vimeo.

“Maker” is a feature documentary looking into the maker movement in America reforming the economy with a new wave of Do-It-Yourself and Do-It-Together. The “Maker Movement”, sometimes called the “Third Industrial Revolution,” subverts traditional manufacturing by building on innovative concepts such as open source, local manufacturing, crowd funding, and digital fabrication. Breaking the hobbyist movement stereotype, “Maker” delves deep into this ecosystem of design and manufacturing in the Internet era. The film explores the ideas, tools, and personalities that are driving the Maker Movement – and returns with a timely snapshot of one of the transforming influences of the current age.

See you next Monday!

White House Welcomes Third Edition of Presidential Innovation Fellows


At the start of his second term, President Barack Obama said, “We must harness new ideas and technology to remake our government.” Some people point to the Presidential Innovation Fellows (PIF) program as a primary example of those words in action.

Earlier this week, the White House welcomed the third edition of Fellows to serve year-long tours-of-duty in government, partnering with dedicated civil servants and employing data-driven iterative lean startup approaches to create change in months, not years (full disclosure: I co-founded the program in 2012 while working in the White House). Fellows will be embedded in a number of agencies, working across three distinct project areas: Data Innovation; Crowdsourcing; and Creating a 21st Century Veterans’ Experience.

A number of these newly-minted Fellows boast New York roots, including:

You can learn more about these Fellows and the rest of their colleagues by reading the bios here.

When we talk about civic engagement, there is no better example than the Presidential Innovation Fellows. But fortunately, there are a number of easier ways to get involved in improving your community — and Microsoft New York is working on that directly. Here in New York, BetaNYC holds weekly hack nights every Wednesday. The TEALS program places experienced software programmers in public school classrooms across the city. Maker Week starts this coming Monday and will feature various opportunities to get hands-on experience with fabrication technologies. And organizations such as Black Girls Code and Girls Who Code spread tech skills to groups that have historically been underrepresented in the tech sector.

From all of us at Microsoft, congratulations to the new round of Fellows as they begin their important work of building a more effective, efficient, and responsive government. Garren Givens, the Director of the PIF program, describes the mission as “creat[ing] technology that hopefully delivers a profound and lasting impact.” But that isn’t a mission that needs to end with him or with the new Fellows in Washington; it’s a mission that each of us can – and should – make our own.

6 Local Programs helping STEM

New York_STEM

As we mentioned last week, STEM education is an area of immense opportunity, but also an area where we, as a society, are falling short. Should we improve access to STEM resources in schools, or through informal programs? Should we help recent grads get tech jobs, or help the existing workforce develop new skills? To all of these questions, the answer is “Yes.”

There’s a lot of work to be done, and fortunately, a lot of great people attacking the challenge from a variety of angles. Here are some local STEM programs we’re excited about:

  1. YouthSpark – Today, September 10th, marks two years since the launch of Microsoft Youthspark, our company-wide initiative to create opportunities for millions of youth through more than 30 programs and partnerships with more than 350 youth-serving nonprofits, in 100+ countries around the world.
  1. TEALS – Exciting news: Microsoft Youthspark’s TEALS program (Technology Education And Literacy in Schools) is expanding. And it’s expanding right here in New York to The Young Women’s Leadership School of Brooklyn, Urban Assembly Gateway School for Technology, Gregorio Luperon High School, KIPP NYC College Prep High School, and Uncommon Charter High School.
  1. Harlem Biospace – This NYCEDC-funded incubator catalyzes companies in the biotechnology and healthcare industries and also hosts student programs, like the HYPOTHEkids Maker Lab. The Maker Lab is a six-week summer program for NYC public high school students that helps develop their skills and interest in STEM.
  1. Black Girls Code – What is the biggest problem with today’s tech industry? If you answered diversity, you are correct. Guess who doesn’t have a problem with diversity? The #WomenInTech who are enabling everyone to learn programming: Black Girls Code.
  1. Field Trips at your local Microsoft retail store – Did you know that Microsoft Youthspark will provide field trips to FREE in-store workshops throughout the school year that teach kids (ages 8-13) everything from coding to digital presentation creation. …wait, can adults sign up?
  1. The Urban Assembly Maker Academy – Newsflash: Today’s students are tomorrow’s leaders. NYC’s UA Maker Academy instills what they need to be successful: design thinking, an innovative mindset, and the ability to not be afraid to take risks when developing solutions.

Read more about today’s announcement of Microsoft’s expansion of TEALS, both globally and in the United States, via the Official Microsoft Blog.



“Out of office” August is over and September is overflowing with civic tech events. Here’s what we’re up to this month. Come say hi, and let us know about any events we’ve missed.

See you out there!