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Tech and Entrepreneurship

July 10, 2013

Entrepreneurs festivalThe NYU Entrepreneurs Festival

Since Professor Samuel F. B. Morse (inventor of the electric telegraph) joined NYU in 1831 as one of the 14 founding faculty members, entrepreneurship has long been a defining aspect of NYU’s character. But for a long time it seemed that anything remotely hip or cool in technology had one source: Silicon Valley. Honorable mentions often went to Austin, Seattle, and Boston.

Now, just as new markets emerged over time along the Silk Road, serious tech innovation is finally being associated with New York City—and especially NYU.

Over the past decade, NYC has become a premier destination for tech start-ups and venture capital funding. In the last year, nearly as many start-ups were founded in New York as in San Francisco and Palo Alto. And the City is pushing a tech future through its Applied Sciences NYC initiative and support of incubators.

At NYU, we’ve been putting more support systems in place to foster our own entrepreneurial inclinations, too:

• In 2010, with the hiring of Frank Rimalovski, we started the Innovation Venture Fund to provide seed-stage capital for start-ups founded by or making use of the discoveries of NYU faculty, students, and staff.

• Since 2009, several new student-led clubs and organizations have emerged to promote and support technology, innovation, and entrepreneurship across NYU’s 15 schools and colleges, including Tech@NYU, the College of Arts and Science Entrepreneurship Association, the Gallatin Business Club, the NYU-Poly Entrepreneurship and Innovation Association, the School of Medicine’s Biotechnology Association, and NYU-Poly’s Design Tinkering Club. In 2010, our students and staff formed the NYU Entrepreneurs Network (NYUEN), a multi-disciplinary collaborative of over 20 entrepreneurship, technology, and innovation related graduate and undergraduate organizations representing over 4,000 students from a dozen schools across NYU.

• In 2010, we also added the $75,000 NYU Technology Venture Competition to our existing Entrepreneurs Challenge, for teams seeking to commercialize NYU-developed technologies and innovations. Collectively, this year’s Entrepreneurs Challenge drew 170 teams representing 500 students and faculty from 14 NYU schools and colleges.

• In 2011, and again this past March, we hosted the NYU Entrepreneurs Festival, drawing over 500 and 750 attendees respectively from across the NYU community for this two-day event to celebrate NYU entrepreneurs. Keynote speakers included such luminary NYU alumni as Herb Kelleher (founder of Southwest Airlines), Jack Dorsey (founder of Twitter and Square) and Dennis Crowley (founder of FourSquare), among many others.

• This summer, we introduced the NYU Summer Launchpad, a 10-week program in which 10 student start-up teams from across NYU will come together and receive training, creative space, and mentorship from top NYC venture capitalists and entrepreneurs to accelerate their new ventures. Participating start-up teams focus on a diverse range of topics, including healthcare, education, consumer and enterprise applications.

• We will complete our merger with NYU-Poly in 2014, re-establishing engineering at NYU and restoring a tech and applied science capability. NYU-Poly has been a successful leader in developing business incubators, and NYU and NYU-Poly are already collaborating on many projects.

• The Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) in Downtown Brooklyn will focus on research topics such as urban mega data, energy efficiency, improved infrastructure to enhance living conditions in large, crowded cities, and the creation of a new industry around the science of cities.

• The Media and Games Network (MAGNET) facility, set to open this fall in Brooklyn’s MetroTech Center, is our first co-location of faculty from different schools working together on a single subject.

• The Technology Acceleration and Commercialization program—which provides funding to encourage research with near-term commercialization potential—has been expanded from the School of Medicine to the rest of the University.

• NYU—in a consortium with Columbia and CUNY—was selected by the National Science Foundation to be a regional node in its i-Corps program, which helps train academic researchers to be entrepreneurs and speed the commercialization of their research.

• The Grand Challenge Award Competition encourages faculty to “think big” by defining a grand challenge, charting a pathway to solving it, and providing three prizes of up to $250,000 in seed funding.

• In 2009, NYU-Poly launched two small business incubators in Manhattan, in partnership with the public and private sector, to nurture the growth of tech startups. In 2012, a third was opened in Brooklyn. To date, the three NYU-Poly incubators have generated $251 million in economic activity and created more than 900 jobs, and 35 companies have graduated to larger spaces, and five have been acquired by larger entities for more than $50 million. A fourth NYU-Poly run incubator will open this fall in Brooklyn.

Entrepreneurs Festival 2The NYU Entrepreneurs Festival

And the proof of all this entrepreneurial spirit is in the pudding, evident both in NYU-affiliated start-ups -- 73 since 2000 -- and NYU entrepreneur/business founders, such as Haim Shoppick, Rob Kalin, and Chris McGuire (all Gallatin alums and co-founders of Etsy), Alexandre Douzet (SCPS alum and co-founder of TheLadders), and Shelley Harrison (NYU-Poly alum and co-founder of Symbol Technologies).

NYU’s founders had in mind a university very different from those that prevailed in the early 19th century—a university that, instead of serving the upper classes, would provide an education that served New York’s entrepreneurial impulse. 

The NYU Entrepreneurs Festival

That spirit remains very much alive and active today. 

—John Beckman

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