Startup Stories: Justin Hendrix on NYC’s Brightest Startups

Founded in 2010, NYC Media Lab is a consortium of leading institutions which include The New York City Economic Development Corporation, The School of Visual Arts, New York University, Columbia University, The New School, CUNY, IESE, and Pratt Institute. Its corporate membership is comprised of some of the world’s most influential corporations, including  A+E Networks, Bloomberg LP, ESPN, Hearst Corporation, NBCUniversal, News Corp, Publicis Groupe, Viacom, and Verizon. Executive Director Justin Hendrix was appointed in 2013 and has become a legendary advocate for New York’s tech and media startups, helming numerous summits and educational programs designed to amplify opportunities for entrepreneurs to grow and network intelligently. We spoke with Justin about his forecast for the future of media startups and NYC Media Lab’s role in supporting the city’s brightest minds.


What are the most innovative media startups working on today?

The key technologies changing the industry are AI, machine learning, and augmented reality (AR). AI and machine learning are changing the backend of the way media is consumed, distributed, and monetized. A lot of this technology is invisible to the user, but it has the most profound effect on the economics of the industry.

Why AI, AR, and machine learning?

They’re important for different reasons. All media is data; it sounds simple but it’s not. Machine learning is now creating data that is understandable, readable, and relevant. AR and VR are focused on the user experience and requires users to do something new with that data, with the goal of solving complex challenges at the intersection of entertainment and communications. Startups—the type that we are most interested in—are developing AI not so much for ad targeting, but for NLP (natural language processing), as well as in video customization, and generating media from synthetic sources.

So is ad tech an “also ran” space for startups now?

There is definitely less intellectual energy spent on ad tech than on NLP. I am seeing a very compelling shift is the move towards deep learning technologies, with startups employing principles of economics and psychology, creating a 3rd generation of personalization. The ad tech market is just very difficult because growth is swallowed by a duopoly, but there are other ways of monetizing content other than Facebook and Google.

Let’s talk about the NYC Media Lab’s current goals.

Our goal is to continue to drive digital and media innovation, working with universities and industry.  Where we’ve been very successful is finding teams with scalable concepts, like Techstars and Bidriver—for example.  We have a major project developing virtual and augmented reality, and we’re helping create dozens of companies. New York is certainly the country’s media capital, but every time there is a tech innovation there’s a talent transfer to Silicon Valley. We’re changing that.

What are some unique aspects of startup life in NYC that make it a great place to launch?

To me it’s the density. There’s so much serendipity, so many new opportunities, new, fresh ideas. Everyone is here to work hard. The problems that we experience here—including social and economic problems—can’t be solved without technology, and that’s why what we do is important. We’re creating better technology to solve more problems, and in that way, we’re making the world a better place.


Learn more about NYC Media Lab here.

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