‘This is just the beginning’: Borough president launches new Queens Tech + Innovation Challenge to help close digital divide

Innovation Challenge
Queens Borough President Donovan Richards announces his new Queens Tech + Innovation Challenge to foster startups and create jobs. (Photos by Paul Frangipane)

Four months after pledging in his State of the Borough address to break down barriers to the technology industry and ensure Queens is on the cutting edge of innovation, Queens Borough President Donovan Richards launched the inaugural Queens Tech + Innovation Challenge (QTIC) at York College in Jamaica Monday morning, Oct. 3.

“Building a Queens economy rooted in innovation and creating countless jobs in the industries of tomorrow are critical to the future success of our borough,” Richards said. “With the QTIC, my team and I look forward to uplifting the vision of our local entrepreneurs and ensuring they have the tools they need to succeed.”

Developed and presented in partnership with the Queens Economic Development Corporation, the QTIC is a multi-month competition for Queens-based entrepreneurs in search of funding to either launch or help grow their startups. The initiative includes entrepreneurial classes, one-on-one mentorship opportunities, and networking events to help applicants develop their pitches, which will be heard by a panel of judges next spring.

“We want to see many young people all over the borough get thin, apply, take classes because there will be five winners but there will be hopefully hundreds of people who will take the classes and earn something,” QEDC Executive Producer Seth Bornstein said. “They may not win right away but they will get something out of this.”

The QTIC application period opens Tuesday, Oct. 4, and runs through March 1 and each of the five winning startups will be eligible for up to $20,000 in seed funding. 

“We are bringing our version of Shark Tank to Queens today,” Richards said. “If you know anything about me and my mission as borough president, it is to close the digital divide. It is no secret why this announcement is here in southeast Queens today because we want to ensure the communities that have historically been disinvested in, where there’s been a lack of access and opportunities, that these communities are front and center.”

Queens Deputy Borough President Ebony Young called the QTIC initiative an innovative, creative and authentic way to reach people in the startup industry.

“Our students will no longer sit in the back because we understand the seriousness of our most vulnerable people being overlooked in tech,” Young said. “It is imperative that we consider them in the ecosystem of advancing tech in Queens.”

Sponsors include Flushing Bank and Resorts World NYC, with Google and Microsoft providing additional support for the QTIC.

“We are proud to support this new initiative that will bring out the innovative vision and entrepreneurial spirit of the next generation of business leaders in Queens,” Resorts World NYC VP of Community Development Michelle Stoddard said. “This challenge will help break down barriers and provide entrepreneurs with access to mentors, networking opportunities, and a chance to sharpen their next big idea. Borough President Richards is leading on an issue dear to us all — providing young men and women in Queens with a chance to realize their dream.”

The QTIC will be divided into five categories: Urban Tech, Big Data, and Artificial Intelligence, Aviation and Hospitality Technology, Community, and Food-Based.

“We all know that it is not good enough to just follow the leader of the industry, but we must be the ones to lead it. The next Apple or Twitter will be born right here in Queens but only if we do all we can to make it happen,” Richard said. “This is what you need to know: Come up with an idea, apply, network, learn, pitch, get funding and it’s just as simple as that.”

For more info on QTIC eligibility and how to apply, visit here.

“This is just the beginning,” Richards said. “This is how we create jobs and ensure Queens leads. We’re a cutting-edge borough and we’re going to prove it with this challenge.”

Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.