More than 200 of the neighborhood’s foremost capitalists, investors, workers, and a smattering of politicians attended the event, which honored Kickstarter as the Community Anchor of the year, and which featured a terrific speech by the supremely well-named Brooklyn Industries co-founder, Lexy Funk.
The theme of the night was, as you might expect, business. Funk’s speech, which she said was written at 3am, in an insomniac moment of clarity, told the story of her difficulties and hurdles in building a successful business. She started Brooklyn Industries when she was 26, newly married, and living in an unfurnished factory floor in Williamsburg.
“Entrepreneurship can feel like the end of an alley,” she said. “Dumpsters to the right, and cyclone fence ahead of you.”
She recalled how she was so poor that she would lie in the bathtub at night to get warm, since her apartment was so cold. She recounted cutting fabric on the tennis court-sized roof of her apartment building and fashioning it into the bags that Brooklyn Industries became known for. She spoke of skirting bills and invoices, and, on at least one occasion, skipping meals for a couple days in order to make payroll.
“Entrepreneurship is not a map,” she concluded. “It’s merely one story after another we tell ourselves to keep moving.”
One of the younger attendees of the night, who is just starting down the entrepreneurship alleyway was Ashley Gray, a 28-year-old former bartender who’s opening up her own cocktail bar in Greenpoint in the coming months.
“I’ve always had dreams of being a business owner in New York,” the Long Island native said. “I love the energy and residents of Greenpoint and it makes sense to do it here. I wouldn’t do it anywhere else.”
Dana Rachlin, Director of the Chamber, said that helping such inchoate businesses is exactly what the Chamber is for.
“We have three focuses: support, advocacy, and education,” she said. The Chamber has extensive experience troubleshooting and can help new business owners anticipate and fix problems before they’ve even run into them, saving them a lot of time and headaches.
In talking with other attendees throughout the night, success stories and headaches seemed to be the most popular topics of conversation.
One such success story is Kickstarter. In just a few years, the company has grown to 108 employees and raised a staggering $1.6 billion for its more than 80,000 successfully completed projects.
The event was held in Kickstarter’s minimalist gallery, which is currently showing Rachel Sussman’s The Oldest Living Things in the World, which is one of Kickstarter’s many triumphs. The show features photos of the oldest things on the planet, including weathered trees, ancient-looking sea creatures, and assorted bacteria and fungi. The room also has a timeline of world history, with the main focus not on the tech boom or industrial revolution, but on the big bang and Cambrian Explosion. Perhaps a bit of irony and perspective for a company which is dedicated to helping the next big innovation hurdle itself into the future.