Brooklyn Innovators: The Businesses Changing the Way We Do Business 

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Maker’s Row

If there’s one story we’ve heard repeatedly from designers, food manufacturers, and small business owners across the borough, it’s that once a company gets past the “doing everything in your own living room” phase, it can be frustrating and often impossible to find a usable manufacturing space in Brooklyn, try as they might to keep things local. But while Brooklyn’s days as an industrial hub may be behind it, there’s no need to outsource a project overseas or scrap those business plans entirely.

This is thanks in large part to Maker’s Row, which bridges the gap at every stage of a project’s life: design (they’ve got pattern makers), materials, the creation of samples and tools and, eventually, mass production. Cofounders Tanya Menendez and Matthew Burnett have built up a staggering network of manufacturers and factories in all 50 states and made it blissfully easy to connect with them, so whether you’re looking to start a major line of furniture or simply expand your Etsy side-hustle into something bigger, they can make it happen. (Their website’s sleek, accessible design helps, too.) With such easy access to high quality, pre-vetted production, Maker’s Row provides that all-too-rare assurance—that your business really will be in good hands.

makersrow.com


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Good Eggs

Think of it as Etsy meets the greenmarket. A website that connects consumers to farmers through a virtual marketplace, Good Eggs is the brainchild of Rob Spiro and Alon Salant, who wanted to use technology to enable the growth of a more viable local food economy. They quickly realized they needed to create a new distribution model for local farmers and sustainable producers, particularly smaller producers who often don’t have enough output to sell to bigger grocery stores. And after launching the model in the Bay Area two years ago, Good Eggs was able to expand into Brooklyn in the fall of 2013.

“We had an overwhelming number of requests throughout Brooklyn. Our community is clearly hungry for access to local food, but not everyone can make it to the farmers’ market on a regular basis,” says team member Erin Zimmer. “Good Eggs provides a shopping alternative for busy folks who still want to support local producers and have this fresh, awesome food, like pastured eggs from Fishkill Farms, sustainable meats from Dickson’s Farmstand Meats and baked-that-morning bread from Bien Cuit, all delivered to their doors during the week.” But Good Eggs is more than just a hub for amazing groceries. Committed to preserving the connectivity between customers and food makers, they also organize regular community events, like special dinners, cooking classes, and out-of-borough farm visits.

goodeggs.com


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Inventgenuity Festival

Talk to any Brooklyn parent and they’ll tell you that kids these days aren’t just finger-painting or barely squeaking out “Hot Cross Buns” on the recorder—au contraire! They’re probably already better at HTML than you, thanks to a major influx in tech programs for especially career-curious kiddos. Among them is a weekend-long gathering every January called the Inventgenuity Festival, now in its fifth year, which somehow gets kids as young as seven constructing automatons, creating music videos out of GIFs, or building a redesign of Leonardo da Vinci’s Cam Hammer to include sound, all with the help of local teaching artists, scientists, designers and those that can be defined by the all-inclusive term “makers.”

Once held at the Invisible Dog Art Center in Cobble Hill, the fest now has a permanent home in its own building next door. “After two years of seeing the community’s enthusiastic embrace of the Festival, Danny and I decided the time was right to start the Beam Center,” says Brian Cohen, referring to his cofounder Danny Kahn. Besides the Inventgenuity Festival, the nonprofit also hosts after-school classes, a summer camp, an internship program and three-month residencies that allow artists to showcase their work in the 100-square-foot storefront in exchange for partial rent and time spent teaching workshops. They’ve also started BeamWorks, a partnership with the NYC Department of Education that prepares teens for a future in which “maker” just might be a viable career option.

beamcenter.org


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Dinner Lab

Part of a new wave of one-night-only culinary salons (a la City Grit), Dinner Lab is a membership-based social-dining experiment that unites undiscovered chefs with adventurous diners. “The Dinner Lab platform flips the traditional restaurant experience by putting up-and-coming chefs center stage and allowing them to create their own menus. Our members are also able to give feedback, something that’s typically missing from the standard dining out process,” founder Brian Bordainick says. “Basically, our business taps into people on the precipice of their career, and gives them an opportunity to put forward a vision for the future… And as long as there are great chefs thinking and dreaming of new ideas, we can continue to tap into them. Because if we had to come up with all these ideas on our own, Dinner Lab wouldn’t stand a chance!”

Although they presently operate outposts out of nine major US cities, Dinner Lab’s canniest move so far has been to expand into Brooklyn, where they sold out of annual memberships (granting twice-weekly access to impromptu suppers held everywhere from rooftops to abandoned factories to motorcycle dealerships) in a matter of minutes. “We wanted to be in the epicenter of what we perceive to be an area of happening food. We have great excitement for all the young companies that have relocated to Brooklyn and call it their home,” Bordainick says. “The community that is being created there is incomparable to anything that we’re seeing in any of our other markets.”

dinnerlab.com


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Atavist

A familiar story for those of us who work in publishing is that once upon a time, everything was wonderful, and then there came a thing called the Internet, and now it is terrible. And even though every time another newspaper folds or somebody writes another listicle this may seem all too true, the story is only half-told—just ask Evan Ratliff, journalist and cofounder of the publishing and software company Atavist. “We were frustrated by the lack of space for long stories in both print and online—and the lack of high-quality design for those stories when they did appear online,” he says. So began The Atavist, a digital publication for writing that surpasses typical magazine word counts but isn’t quite ebook length, either. Each month, The Atavist features one original story, which readers can purchase individually on the site, in-app, through Kindle Singles or subscriptions, with “story” taking on a distinctly 21st-century tone: the writing is accompanied by complementary audio, images, video and graphic design. Along the way, Atavist branched off into Creatavist, a software that’s now available to everyone, be it design-junkie writers, bookworm photographers or particularly artsy tech nerds. The future of publishing? Maybe not so terrible.

atavist.com


Dirty Yoga

On the surface, yoga doesn’t seem like the sort of thing that’s prime for innovation. After all, it’s been around for centuries and has only undergone minor modifications. Like, turn up the temperature in the room a few degrees and BOOM—you’ve got a yoga revolution. So imagine our pleasure at discovering Dirty Yoga, an online, subscription-based service started by Jess Gronholm and Susi Rajah, which offers all levels and types of yoga in the form of comprehensive videos featuring Gronholm. The beauty of Dirty Yoga is the ease with which a fitness-lover can access great classes from the comfort of his or her home. The videos change frequently, so boredom with the routine is not an option, and membership is available for only $20 a month, which is far cheaper than most yoga classes. Increased affordability and accessibility? This is just the type of change fitness needed. 

dirtyyogaco.com


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FlyCleaners

Even if you happen to have locked down your dream apartment, the odds are still slim that it’ll actually have laundry in-unit. So a service that picks up, cleans, and returns your clothes to your doorstep with a few quick swipes on your phone? Let’s just say we’re open to it.

David Salama and Seth Berkowitz were counting on this last fall when they launched FlyCleaners, a startup aiming to take the way we do our laundry into the 21st century. The whole process happens via their app, available on iPhone and Android, which will have your laundry done at a local cleaner without ever requiring you to leave the house; pickup and delivery are free, too. Though its offices are in Manhattan, the service is currently available in Williamsburg, Greenpoint, and Bushwick, and its owners plan to expand farther into Brooklyn, as well as Manhattan and Queens. “I’ve lived in Brooklyn basically my entire life, so I really knew the area and the people,” Salama says. “We wanted to start in North Brooklyn because we knew that the residents were both tech savvy, open to trying new things and really busy. That’s our ideal customer!” 

flycleaners.com


Storyhunter

Since the spring of 2012, the DUMBO-based team at Storyhunter has done something virtually unthinkable in the 21st-century economy: sought out and created countless paying jobs for video journalists. Founded by Jaron Gilinksy and Alex Ragir—both of whom have extensive experience in the field—the site is a passion project. And in less than two years, it’s fashioned itself as a best-of-both-worlds combination of citizen journalism and professional-grade ethics and production standards, connecting video journalists with assignments as well as seeing pitches through the process of getting greenlighted. Equally important? They make sure contributors are compensated fairly and in a timely fashion.

They’ve become a go-to resource for companies like The Economist and Yahoo!, and have also begun hosting ScreenUp, a series of screenings that serve as informal networking events and a chance to connect with documentary filmmakers, often via Skype. (Their network is most definitely a global one.) They’ve set up a complex and seemingly unprecedented system, but Storyhunters’ goal is as simple as it is crucial: “to tell the world’s most important, untold stories.”

storyhunter.tv


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The Pitchfork Review

In December, online music mecca Pitchfork turned against everything it built its brand upon for the last 17 years—quick access, easy consumption, and “Next Big Thing” taste-making—and launched the publishing equivalent of a dinosaur: a print quarterly. The idea of a digital entity spinning off a long lead-time publication openly counteracts everything we’ve been led to believe about the state of music journalism but even more against the grain is focusing a large portion of content on the past.

The buzz cycle be damned: among the 160 pages of The Pitchfork Review’s inaugural issue is an ode to the music weeklies of yesteryear (very meta), an excerpt of a book retracing the birth of trailblazing hip-hop label Delicious Vinyl, and a biographical essay on 60s soul legend Otis Redding. “We wanted an opportunity to give some pieces a second life, one that won’t be lost to Google searches and Twitter archives,” the staff notes in the issue’s forward. “And we also think this format is the perfect environment for presenting new writing and visual content that stands the test of time.” Something that can’t be deleted at the tap of a finger? How subversively innovative. 

thepitchforkreview.com


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Joios

It’s hard to rival Brooklyn when it comes to our sheer abundance of artisanal food products. But how the heck do you choose between Anarchy in a Jar’s Arnold Palmer Jelly and the Concord Grape Jam from Sweet Deliverance? Cue Joios, a collaborative food and drink community that attempts impartially, efficiently and effectively to match people with products through their series of blind tasting events. “Amid endless possibilities, we often make flawed choices; exhausted by the search, we settle for the most famous or most convenient or the same old thing,” cofounder Matt Bruck tells us. “By removing all indicators of status, price, reputation and buzz from the process, we allow raters to focus exclusively on the taste—as it appears in their own noses and mouths.”

At every tasting, participants receive about 6 identical tasting samples from ½ ounces of spirits to ½ teaspoons of peanut butter, which are always served without any identifiers or favoritism. Tasters then rate the items on a 1-5 scale using Joios’ iPhone app, which matches patterns among participants to deliver the most relevant recommendations, based on a taster’s own preferences. “Tasters with very similar ratings patterns make better recommendation sources than most critics or retailers because their data capture their preferences better than their words,” Bruck says. “‘Full Bodied’ or ‘Earthy’ might not mean the same thing to everyone, but a rating of 5 out of 5 does.” joios.com

joios.com


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Reductress

You know her: she’s always on-trend (but totally unique!) and is just trying to Have It All, whether that means starting on a new juice cleanse or discovering more creative ways to use food during sex. Yep, she’s the Target Female Consumer as imagined by women’s magazines and advertising companies, and she’s basically your BFF if your BFF were an insane robot. Herein lies the genius of Reductress, a fake news website that satirizes women-focused media. What The Onion is to traditional news, Reductress is to that always upbeat, always patronizing voice that’s omnipresent in everything from supermarket glossies to Diet Coke ads.

Since launching last April, Reductress has given us hilarious articles like “The Four Cutest Ways to Photograph Yourself Hugging Third-World Children,” “Summer Looks We Love For Over $1,000” and “Beauty Tips From Mean Gay Guys” that mock the blatant consumerism and completely inadvisable “advice” found in an unfortunate amount of today’s literature directed at women. Founders Beth Newell and Sarah Pappalardo, who met doing sketch comedy at the Magnet Theater, already had careers being funny: Beth interned at The Onion, contributed to McSweeney’s, and directed, performed and taught sketch comedy; Sarah wrote plays and essays and continues to work as a digital strategy consultant.

The future doesn’t look too bad for them. “We’re looking forward to our redesign in March and are hoping to add more video content to the site,” Newell says.“We’ve gotten some press from publications and blogs we really respect in the past nine months,” Pappalardo adds. “We also get some weird, angry emails from people who think our articles are real.” We’d like a copy of those, please.

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