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Brooklyn Gathering Holds Promise of NExT Big Thing

NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Charlie O'Donnell, a thickly built kayaking addict, was working at angel investor Union Square Ventures in 2006 when he took a subway ride with his boss, the Internet visionary Fred Wilson, to Fort Greene, Brooklyn, to visit four guys building a Web site called Etsy out of their apartment.

Union Square got into Etsy early, and stands to win big if and when the popular DIY marketplace, which now employs some 400 people, goes public or is acquired by a larger retailer. For his part, O'Donnell, a Brooklyn native, now 33, gained some life-changing insights into the start-up company movement gaining speed in his own hometown.

"That was a real eye-opener -- that something very big was going on in my backyard," said O'Donnell, who went on to form Brooklyn Bridge Ventures in January 2012, his one-man v.c. firm that has so far raised $6.5 million and invested in 10 start-up companies, half based in Brooklyn, the other half in Manhattan.

"Brooklyn has been the home to a lot of creative folks for a while," O'Donnell said earlier this week while riding the N-train to pick up his car on 5th Avenue, in Brooklyn that is.

"What's happening now is that some of these creative folks are realizing their skills and talents can be used in a business that is scalable, and really that's part of a general movement towards individual entrepreneurship. As those businesses have grown, more and more people are involved in a greater entrepreneurship community," he said.

And like many a movement that comes of age, that community now has its own yearly gathering.

For a second day, the Brooklyn neighborhood of Williamsburg, the nexus of the New York's DIY movement, will be hosting its second " NExT Conference," a gathering of start-up companies, inventors, technologists and various business professionals punctuated by a free expo held in nearby McCarren Park, featuring many more start-up companies. The conference, which is taking place for a second day on Friday at the Brooklyn Brewery and the fastidiously hip Wythe Hotel, is an outgrowth of the Northside Festival, a larger confab of more than 100 live music, film and arts events that runs through Sunday.

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