Ah, Those Memories of Silicon Alley


BYLINE: By STACY COWLEY, Special to the Sun




LENGTH: 443 words


DATE: February 16, 2005


Like Camelot, Manhattan's "Silicon Alley" existed only for a few brief shining years in the late 1990s, when any tech-savvy dreamer with decent PR skills could attract venture financing and breathless media coverage for his or her start-up business. A lucky handful made millions from judiciously timed sales of stock in the dozens of New York dot-coms that went public. Countless others were left with nothing to show for their 80-hour weeks but worthless stock options and drawers crammed with free T-shirts.


On a recent evening, veterans of New York's tech boom reunited at Manhattan's Discotheque nightclub for a "Back in the Day" party jointly organized by several of the era's surviving networking organizations. The ostensible occasion was the 10th anniversary of the World Wide Web Artists Consortium, a group for Web developers that launched with the dawn of Netscape in December 1994. Nostalgia was the party's real catalyst.


"A bunch of us were talking and saying, 'it's been a while since we all got together,' so we decided, let's just merge our lists make something happen," said Allison Hemming, who enjoyed brief celebrity as the creator of the "Pink Slip Party" gatherings that brought laid-off workers together for networking and commiseration when the economy began tanking. Ms. Hemming is also the president of The Hired Guns, an interim staffing agency that places designers, copywriters, and other creative freelancers.


Pete Mutolo, Paul Hollett, and Rob Winter watched their business soar in the 1990s as Internet mania took hold - then fall off a cliff in 2001. "We got slaughtered," Mr. Hollett says, by the double-whammy of the dot-com crash and September 11, 2001. Business was scarce for years, but Mr. Winter says he began noticing improvement last summer. So far this year, that momentum has been building. "I've gotten three proposals in three days," he said.


There are some signs that companies and investors are ready to get back into the technology game. Venture One shows New York IT investment increasing $100 million from 2003 to 2004. Job hunters say they're starting to see more opportunities.


Two co-founders of search firm Careers on the Move circulated through Wednesday's party. "The difference in the job market now is that it's really, really specialized," said company principal Richelle Konian. After several lean years, the five-year-old firmis finally placing people again at a steady clip, she said. Still, her business partner Kathleen Sheehan expressed a glimmer of longing for the old dot-com days. "When we started, it was so easy," she said. "We used to say, 'If you have a pulse, we can find you a job.''