By guest authors Irina Patterson and Candice Arnold
This is the forty-seventh interview in our series on financing for entrepreneurs. I am talking to Brian Cohen, vice chairman of New York Angels. The group offers early stage capital in the range of $250,000 to $750,000. Since 1997, the group and members of their predecessor group have invested over $28 million in more than 65 companies.
Irina: Hi, Brian. Why don’t you start with your background and how you arrived at this point?
Brian: I guess, to some extent, if I wax a bit poetic here, I grew up in Brooklyn, and there’s an attitude, perhaps to some degree, about people who grow up in Brooklyn and New York City of being a bit more aggressive, being more opportunistic. When you grow up in Brooklyn, there’s a sense of wanting to get out of Brooklyn. The old history of Brooklyn is made up of a lot of very interesting people who like to create things. Perhaps there’s a bit of that Brooklyn DNA in me.
I’ve always had a love of science and technology and have been curious. I think the element of curiosity is a bona fide component of mentality. I think everything in life is behavioral. Certainly, people think that, but they don’t realize just how important individual behaviors are.
One’s curiosity, in my case as a science and tech maven, has driven a great part of my thinking and my execution. I ended up going to a wonderful high school here in New York, Stuyvesant High School, which was a place of exploration for science and technology nerds.
Then I went to college and got a degree in biology and in rhetoric, an old line of the opportunity to learn to speak better. I went on to get master’s in science and technology communications. I wanted to be a science news broadcaster.
My parents wanted me to be a doctor. That’s something else that you get when you grow up as someone who’s Jewish in Brooklyn. You don’t have a career choice. It’s a defining characteristic. But I didn’t do that, so I ended up defining my life by my love of science and technology.
When I was in graduate school, I helped launch some of the first computer publications. I helped run the first computer conferences.
But in grad school, while I was defining my interest in being a writer, journalist, and broadcaster in science and technology, it turned out that I was in Boston. Boston was the first Silicon Valley, along the 128 belt.
We started a science news service, much like an AP (Associated Press) or UPI (United Press International) as grad students. My beat was the emergent computer industry. I was 21 or 22 years old, and I was covering companies that most people today have never heard of: Data General, Digital Equipment Corporation, Prime Computer, Wang Computer, Apollo Computer, and dozens and dozens of others that were the precursors of a lot of great computer technology companies.
The fickle finger of fate touched me. I found it to be fascinating, and the rest became my life and the history of the computer business.
I found myself, at an early age, being swept into and connected to, as a journalist, the early days of the computer industry. I was able to meet many of the founders, many of the people who helped guide the original days of how early hard drives were created and developed, how early mini-computer systems were defined, how the first PCs were developed. It was a wonderful time for me to be a young explorer. That’s what got me toward that direction.
The next step, after I had done my publishing stint in Boston, was to come down to New York City. I found a tiny publishing company called CMP Publications. Gerry Leeds was the founder of that publishing company.
He had started a couple of publications in electronics engineering, and he wanted to start something in the computer field.
Computer World had been out for maybe two or three years. We defined an opportunity in the computer industry and in OEM systems. I’d launched a publication called Computer Systems News.
It became the leading systems OEM publication in the computer industry. A couple of years later, I launched Information Week magazine as the publisher, and it still stands today as one of the leading enterprise magazines.