Building Innovation at NYC’s Company

 |   MSNY Staff

A rendering of the soon-to-be-finalized Company building.

The company you keep says a lot about the work that you do.

That’s an important tenet to Matthew Harrigan native New Yorker and co-founder of Company. Originally founded as Grand Central Tech (GCT) in 2014, Company is New York’s first vertical, multi-tenant tech campus at scale, bringing together startups, entrepreneurs, and enterprise corporations all focused on the same goal: developing thriving new ventures.

Back in 2014, Harrigan had a pretty strong network of contacts operating in and around New York’s tech sector. He kept hearing a recurring refrain from seasoned founders and operators: they wanted to work on a new startup, and felt that in order to be successful it would be helpful to be part of a community, but they didn’t want to do an accelerator and pay an equity fee. For them, giving up almost ten percent of the company didn’t make sense financially, but many innovators appreciated the value of joining a cohort of people at the same stage.

“I thought: there is a really overlooked and valuable opportunity to establish an accelerator program that serviced the most valuable segment of the entrepreneurial ecosystem,” explains Harrigan. “I wanted to create an extremely entrepreneur-friendly accelerator program to make their participation compelling.”

And so he did. Through a mutual colleague, Harrigan was an introduced to Michael Milstein. The two formed a partnership to launch Grand Central Tech that would benefit from a donation by Milstein Properties of 15,000 square foot space in the 335 Madison Ave building—a portion of the original New York Facebook headquarters—in which it could operate.

Within GCT, founders and startups have access to a multitude of resources, including the standard benefits you would enjoy in a standard accelerator: industry expertise or practice area expertise (marketing, sales, legal, board management, infosec, etc.), but also hands-on mentorship, and—of course—Azure credits that make the cost of operating in the early months more manageable. They also help each cohort of companies to secure interest of New York Venture Capitalists, with an emphasis on step-by-step improvements that take the cohort to the next level.

“We prefer to be organic, and responsive,” says Harrigan. “When our companies come to us and are struggling to establish sales acumen, we’ll go out and secure a sales expert from our board of advisors or batch of mentors to give a presentation on sales specifically. We’re not going to force people to sit through a presentation that they’re not interested in.”

After experiencing 20 companies go through the GCT program annually, the team noticed that one of the most valuable aspects was physical proximity to the others. Cohort members wanted to stay in the building after the year, which was not the intended outcome, but nonetheless a happy one. So they built another floor for graduate companies to grow within the building, upping their square footage over the years from 15,000 to 120,000.

“We didn’t realize back then that we would create something with as much momentum as it has today,” says Harrigan. “A year ago, we sat back to talk about what we created—we’ve grown from 15,000 square feet to 120,000 square feet and run three programs. We’re a destination for startups and corporate partners alike. What if we could leverage this entire building and become a major destination – a center of density for the entire NY tech ecosystem?

A rendering of the soon-to-be-finalized Company building.
A rendering of the soon-to-be-finalized Company building.

Together with Milstein Properties, Grand Central Tech co-founded Company, which is responsible for reimagining the entire 1.1 million square foot building right outside Grand Central Station. With 100,000 square feet set aside for amenities like a gym with a pool, a cafeteria with an outdoor terrace, a theater, and a bar, 250,000 square feet for startups, and 750,000 for enterprise corporations, Company is poised to become the first all-purpose building designed solely for entrepreneurship.

“Under our roof you will find the very best operators in the entrepreneurial system,” Harrigan says. “No one’s really done that in New York: take a large building and harness a sampling of entrepreneurs from across the innovation economy from startups to divisions of Fortune 500’s.”

We’ve been proud supporters of Company from the start, when they created a no-rent no-equity accelerator program and were seeking initial revenue support. As an initial corporate funder, we were proud to support the thesis that dropping the equity would mean attracting later-stage entrepreneurs that were making a change.

Company has also valued inclusion at its core since its founding: Its first accelerator class as GCT received over 500 applications; the class of companies they ended up selecting was 50% female founded—and they have maintained that standard ever since.

“We focus on addressing some of the inequity in the tech sector,” explains Harrigan. “Our objective is that New York define its tech sector as being as diverse and inclusive as possible. That’s not just lip service. We’ve been living that for nearly five years now.”

It’s that cultural drive, says Harrigan, that leads to Company’s success. In a city like New York, cultures bleed into each other from street to street—it’s not technology all the time. New Yorkers are not siloed within their industry, and startups in the world of the tech sector have not consumed the interest of everybody in the city.

“The biggest ‘unicorn’ in NYC in 2016 was a Broadway play: Hamilton,” he says. “Tech is thriving for sure, but it’s a more diverse place to live in the nature of conversation with friends and family. That diversity leads to more nuanced conversations on how to build technology.”

When asked how Company aligns with Microsoft’s mission to empower every individual and organization to achieve more, Harrigan responds, “I think we share that mission entirely.” For him, it comes down to the original premise behind skyscrapers, where an architect would build a building and say: “this is the mercantile building, everybody in trade will come to this building.” Now, he wants people to look at Company and say, “this is the innovation building.”

“Everyone grasps that proximity matters,” Harrigan continues. “Ambient, serendipitous conversation matters. To think that I can work in a building where I could potentially do business with everybody in the building, people look at that and say, ‘If I were part of that community, I’d be a smarter person and more capable.’ I think we’ll accomplish that through the development of a brilliant building. We’re building the hardware of the innovation economy.”