Highlights from NY Tech Meetup in May

NY Tech Meetup‘s monthly event at NYU’s Skirball Auditorium was filled to the rafters last Wednesday night, though a handful of no-shows allowed walk-ins at the sold-out evening. The room buzzed as attendees chatted and networked before the presentations of newly launched companies and products began.

In a city where the technology industry is on the rise, and where Tech Meetup reigns supreme among all other tech events — not least with its 23,000-plus membership — anticipation was high.

At the start of the program, Jessica Lawrence, managing director of NY Tech Meetup, noted the scene’s continued growth.

“We almost always have 50 percent new people here,” she said after asking for a show of hands from those in the crowd attending for the first time. “It says a lot about how tech in New York is growing.”


This highlight reel from the May NY Tech Meetup features the six companies that presented their products, including Plum Perfect, Folio, Square Inc., Aereo and Disqus. Video courtesy of NY Tech Meetup, edited by Bijan Rezvani/MetroFocus.


Following the nearly two-hour program that also included announcements about mentoring and training opportunities for students, the crowd moved upstairs to the Skirball’s penthouse overlooking Washington Square Park. Attendees were from a wide variety of backgrounds.

Jon Sakurangsan and Albert Moy were representing their volunteer nonprofit organization, Party 4 a Cause, and wanted both to network and see what was “going on in the scene.”

“Where else can you find, literally, little geniuses?” said Sakurangsan. “These people are turning industries upside down.”

Another attendee, Nirja Mahenthiran, is involved in the tech scene and is also an executive recruiter. She said attending tech meetups is very important.

“If you have an idea you want to implement, it’s good to see what others are doing,” she said.

And, in a testament to the quick growth of the tech scene in New York City, Jolene Delisle, who works in advertising, said she couldn’t believe how official the Meetup had become.

“Two years ago, it was a totally different vibe,” she said. “It’s amazing to see how this community has progressed. Now it’s this formalized thing.”

Though NY Tech Meetup is perhaps more formal now with a full-time staff member, advance online ticket sales for the consistently sold-out events and a newly designed website, the atmosphere of the meet-up is still collegial, supportive and full of good-natured ribbing, especially from the evening’s MC, Nate Westheimer, executive director of NY Tech Meetup (NYTM).  NYTM used May’s meeting to announce its own launch of #StartupStories. Co-produced with NASDAQ OMX and HD Made, the video series features leaders of New York technology companies providing insights into building a start-up, addressing topics such as  pitching, failure and building a team.

Demos/ Presenters:

Sensible Text:

Columbia University student Jacob Andreas developed Sensible Text initially in 24-hours at the New York Hackathon. The program brings to word processing what Google brought to its search engine–it auto-completes your text, anticipating the word or phrase that will come after the first words you type. Andreas’ demonstration included typing “Barack,” which the program responded to by filling in  “Obama.”


Also first developed at the Hackathon, Audigram is a music website that allows you to collect and share playlists and music from around the web. The user interface was clean and looked like Pinterest in that music is displayed by image. Three Princeton University students presented Audigram.

Plum Perfect:

Have you ever had trouble buying make-up or matching a pair of shoes with a dress? A user merely uploads a picture, and a complex algorithm figures out what colors and products to recommend.


Finding digital assets is difficult, Folio creators said during the demo, and selling it is hard, too. This online marketplace for buying or selling digital content like graphic designs or accounting spreadsheets makes it simple. 


Veteran venture capitalist Brian Cohen and his son Trace presented the self-publishing website Launch.it wearing T-shirts that riffed off the I (heart) NY logo with I (heart) New.  They believe everything new should be easy to find online. And because journalists don’t write about something unless there’s a story to tell, Launch.it gives new companies a platform for telling theirs. Encouraging start-ups or small businesses to take control of their message, the site gives tools to the companies, or the publicists who work for them, to write articles, not press releases, about what’s new, and upload them to Launch.it. Links can direct users to where to purchase an item or to sign up for a trial.


Chet Kanojia’s presentation of Aereo elicited “oohs” and multiple rounds of applause before the demo was over. Aereo, through the use of a tiny antenna, allows its  subscribers to stream high-definition network television on their digital device. Users can also pause, and DVR the programs they want to watch, for $12 per month.

Aereo, which launched in March and is backed by IAC Chairman Barry Diller, is being sued by many broadcast networks, including MetroFocus parent company WNET/Thirteen, but Kanojia says what it’s doing is legal because the public airwaves are available to consumers, and technology has now caught up with the cable companies. The day after Aereos’ presentation at NY Tech Meetup, The Hollywood Reporter posted the redacted public filing of the case in the U.S. District Court Southern District of New York.

Square Inc.:

Square is well-known for its mobile payment system, but the company was presenting a new product at Tech Meetup: Pay with Square, which allows you to pay by mobile phone without even taking your phone out of your pocket at participating retailers. The app tells you which businesses accept Pay with Square, then you just enter the store, pick what you want to buy and tell the cashier your name. The cashier then connects with Square, sees who with Square software is in the store based on GPS, and approves you. A picture is also associated with your account, adding a level of protection.


Many people are familiar with Disqus (sounds like “discuss”) — the commenting service on blogs and websites, including MetroFocus. At the Meetup, Disqus 2012 was unveiled. The new version, which is currently available by request only, improves and expands on the commenting options, and aims to make the experience of commenting better. You can select commenters to hide,  for instance.

For more technology news, watch “MetroFocus: The Tech Economy,” airing on THIRTEEN on June 30 at 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. and July 12 at 8:30 p.m.; on WLIW at 5:30 a.m. on June 30; on NJTV on July 1 at 5:30 a.m. and July 2 at 4:30 a.m.


MetroFocus is made possible by Sue and Edgar Wachenheim III, the Sylvia A. and Simon B. Poyta Programming Endowment to Fight Anti-Semitism, Bernard and Denise Schwartz, Barbara Hope Zuckerberg, Janet Prindle Seidler, Jody and John Arnhold, the Cheryl and Philip Milstein Family, Judy and Josh Weston and the Dr. Robert C. and Tina Sohn Foundation.


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