Westchester has been a leader in digital technology since IBM first came to town in the 1960s. Today, the county is home to a wide variety of companies at the tech forefront.
By Dave Donelson
IBM may top the list of technology firms in Westchester, but a wide range of digital product and service providers have earned the county a firm role in the modern information economy. From cloud-based virtual businesses with offices in the founder’s back bedroom to publicly traded companies lodged in gleaming modern headquarters, the county’s tech firms make life more interesting for consumers around the globe.
“Although the United States is our biggest market, we are amazingly global in our reach,” says Will Treves, GM of the Ask Applications business at IAC Applications in Yonkers. “In fact, it’s hard to think of a country in which we don’t distribute our products.” He explains that the firm, a part of leading media and Internet company IAC, is itself a holding company that contains Apalon, Slimware, Daily Burn, and Ask Applications, the largest component in the Yonkers office, which houses 155 employees. “We build cool software that makes life easier in just a few clicks,” he says. “Our products span everything from recipes to weather to maps to tracking packages. It’s a very diverse portfolio.”
George Benko’s Instone Corporation lives in the cloud, although the founder works from an office in New Rochelle. His staff of five software developers contribute remotely, from Hungary and India, in addition to New Rochelle. “As a Web-based company where everything is done in the cloud, we don’t need an office,” he says. Benko, who has been in the US for 28 years, is a Hungarian immigrant. “Growing up there, I made many friends in the industry,” he notes.
If you’re into local sports, you’ve probably encountered one of InStone’s leading products — its Sports and Events Calendar, which is used by more than 20 schools around the county. “About eight years ago, New Rochelle Lightning Hockey needed a platform for managing hockey games, scheduling, and notification,” Benko explains. “Rye High School picked it up for all their sports, and now we have over 20 schools just in Westchester using it. Then BOCES hired us to create their score management system for the 80 schools in Section 1,” he says.
Benko’s company also provides custom database software and websites for commercial users around the world. Customers include Coastal Cars Worldwide in Florida and NYC’s Starlight Orchestra.
Big data drives many technology companies, among them eScholar, a software provider in White Plains that specializes in services that help students achieve their goals. In an industry where 20 months isn’t an unusually short lifespan for a company, eScholar’s 20 years is a remarkable record. “Every year, we have 15 or so competitors,” says founder and CEO Shawn Bay, “but only three or four of them will be from the year before.”
The company has about 50 employees, most of them in White Plains, but its products are used by educators across the country. eScholar compiles educational data that shows which pathways lead to careers in given fields. “For example,” Bay explains, “if you wanted to become an anesthesiologist, we can show you, based on the past experiences of millions of other people, that high schoolers who took physics and statistics are more likely to be successful in that field.” The company works primarily for state and large local-education agencies, which, in turn, provide the services to students and parents.
“Our business is constantly evolving…. Generally, once we have figured out one big challenge, it’s a near-certainty there is another one right behind it.”
—Will Treves, GM Ask Applications at IAC Applications
Another 20-year-old Westchester digital company is Purchase-based BrioDigital, which provides digital marketing services, including SEO (search engine optimization) and website design. Gerry Matts, founder and CEO, says, “We’re pretty much a global company. We have sales reps that cover the whole country, and I own a company in India, where my technology people are.” Local clients include law firm Marvin A. Cooper, PC, and Westrock Pools in Nanuet.
Matts says BrioDigital’s service is data-driven but with a human component. “We use a lot of research and tools that perform analytics, but we also rely on experience,” he explains. “We know, for example, that adding a form to a website can substantially increase the leads coming in from existing traffic to the site.”
Every time your cellphone installs a software update, it’s a reminder of how important it is for these companies to keep up with change. “Our business is constantly evolving,” IAC’s Treves points out. “Ten years ago, Google Chrome didn’t exist. Now it’s our biggest platform. Meanwhile users’ expectations of online products are completely dissimilar to ten, five, even two years ago. Then there are critical issues like privacy, which we take extremely seriously. Generally once we have figured out one big challenge, it’s a near-certainty there is another one right behind it.”
Benko says Instone tries to stay ahead of the trends. “We make sure our clients are ready for any kind of technology that comes along,” he says. “Everything we create has been mobile-friendly since 2011. Back then, everybody had cellphones but didn’t use them for information. Now, 80 percent of our users are on a mobile device. Being ahead of that curve gave us an edge.
“Today,” he adds, “our platform supports in-home automation, like Alexa. A parent can ask Alexa what’s on their calendar, and they’ll be told what sports events are at their school.”
How does eScholar cope with change? “We focus,” Bay says. “It’s not just about technology; it’s about making data valuable and useful. And it’s all focused on education and the workforce.” He adds another major coping mechanism: “Listening to our customers is important. They’re always doing something new and bringing us ideas. White Plains School District and the regional information centers of BOCES have been wonderful partners for us in creating a set of products.”
Westchester has two big advantages for these firms: people and prospects. As Matts of BrioDigital says, “Westchester is a great place. Many major companies are right here, and the decisions are made right here.”
Treves observes that IAC Applications has its roots in the county, having first been located in Irvington, then in White Plains, before moving to Yonkers. “It is a great location because we are on the doorstep of New York City but also part of the more suburban Westchester environment,” he says. “So this allows us to pick from different types of people. We find people in the city; we find people in Westchester; we find people in New Jersey and even from Connecticut.”
Bay agrees, adding: “One reason we located in Westchester is to have proximity to smart people who have the kinds of skills we need. We’re able to get really terrific people from all over the tri-state area.”
No one knows what the future holds for digital-technology companies in Westchester, but it is certain to be different from today. As Treves says, “The online environment changes so rapidly, it’s hard to know with any precision. But what I do know is that if we continue to focus on our core values — being bold, improving our user experiences, collaborating, being transparent — we’ll continue our long trajectory of success here in Westchester.”
Dave Donelson writes about business from a home office in West Harrison and tries not to spend more than eight hours daily in front of a screen.