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Brooklyn Gathering Holds Promise of NExT Big Thing

The product craze -- single-gear bicycles, designer pizzas, handmade furniture -- has opened certain segments of north Brooklyn culture to easy ridicule but it hasn't dampened the borough's particular entrepreneurial spirit.

"Brooklyn has really catalyzed the movement around DIY and technology," said David Gilboa, one of the co-founders of the popular eyeglass maker Warby Parker, which was started three years ago in Philadelphia but moved to Manhattan to access a wider scope of talent.

"As the world has moved to more mass-produced goods, there's become a desire from a lot of people to express their creativity through making products themselves, and also a demand from consumers to own unique handmade goods," Gilboa said.

That drive has helped create food-service specialists such as Plated, Sweet Roots and the chef-for-hire service, KitchenSurfing, another Union Square Ventures investment, as well as the 3D printing company MakerBot. Other Brooklyn-based companies have aimed to try to make the world a slightly better place -- the health care procurement provider Sheerpa, and Tough Mudder, the Brooklyn-based fun-loving experience-focused physical adventure event organizer that has grown into a $130 million business in three years from the humble beginnings of a $20,000 loan.

"Brooklyn is the antidote to Manhattan, it doesn't have people walking around in suits, taking themselves a little bit too seriously," said Guy Livingstone, a former London-based corporate lawyer, who started Tough Mudder with his childhood friend, Will Dean, a Harvard Business School graduate. "There are a lot of people looking for the antidote to all of that, and that's Brooklyn, and it's also what our company offers as well. We're very glad to be here."

Tough Mudder employs about 140 people in Brooklyn's Dumbo neighborhood, and operates offices in London and Munich with Melbourne on the way, Livingstone said.

Of course, Brooklyn's start-up scene would probably look a lot like Austin or Portland, Ore., if it wasn't adjacent to Manhattan, a point O'Donnell, himself something of a start-up, often mentions while adding that he takes as many meetings in Brooklyn as he does in Manhattan. (Queens, not so much.)
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