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Brooklyn Gathering Holds Promise of NExT Big Thing

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The festival and the NExT conference is the brainchild of Scott and Daniel Stedman, founders of the Northside Media Group, which also publishes the Brooklyn arts-focused L Magazine. The idea for the NExT conference emerged three years ago when Stedman said he came to realize that while well-known bands such as TV on the Radio, MGMT, Yeasayer and The National live in Brooklyn, a slew of start-up companies were emerging out of what Stedman likes to call the "creative community."

One early example was Kickstarter, a company originally created to help bands source money and financing from their biggest fans. Kickstarter started among a group of friends living in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Vinegar Hill, a curiously lovely small stretch of streets along the East River just north of Dumbo. Kickstarter later moved to the Lower East Side, obtained financing from Union Square Ventures in 2010, and recently purchased a former pencil factory in Greenpoint to build a new and expanded headquarters.

Rather than mimicking Austin's South by Southwest festival, Stedman said it was essential that technology be a component of the NExT Conference rather than its focus.

"Austin did it successfully years ago, so you can't just tag something to just round it out, it actually has to represent that community," he said. "For us, the 'ah-ha moment' came when we noticed that Brooklyn isn't just a technology community, it's that the freelancer has become the entrepreneur, that there's this new entrepreneurship community and it's coming out of Brooklyn's wider creative community."

The NExT Conference reflects a contemporary Brooklyn, or better said, a slice of north Brooklyn that has evolved from a spillover neighborhood for young people priced out of the East Village in the 1980s and 1990s to something of a cultural reference point, for good and bad.

Brooklyn's burgeoning collection of eclectic restaurants, homemade retail and gourmet coffee shops hasn't been universally embraced. Upscale retail has replaced Mom-and-Pop bodegas as bistros have supplanted neighborhood eateries. Real estate values have spiked, reflecting the borough's changing breed of businesses which in turn threatens to transform Brooklyn's north and easterly neighborhoods into extensions of Tribeca, clean and soulless.

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