10 years of innovation at the NYU Tandon Future Labs
In the decade since we launched, NYC has turned into one of the strongest tech entrepreneurship ecosystems on the planet. We’ve got a lot to celebrate — and a lot of people with whom to celebrate. On 10/10, we brought together our supporters, partners and startups for a bang-up blowout at our new home in Downtown Brooklyn featuring trophies, news of an exit, a proclamation, and more
It’s been a decade since the NYU Tandon Future Labs launched as the first NYC-sponsored incubator, and on 10/10/2019, we commemorated #10YearsofFL. As we heard from Future Labs leadership, recognized the people and organizations who have helped us grow, and celebrated with our startups and supporters, one thing stayed in focus: The past decade of the Future Labs has been defined by our strong relationships and powerful community, and we could not be more grateful.
Then and now: Future Labs founders and leaders
Three of the 4 Future Labs (Data, Urban, and Digital) have now moved to a new home at 370 Jay Street, which was inaugurated at our 10th anniversary. The newly renovated building on the NYU Tandon campus highlights our origins as the first public-private incubator between the university and NYC, and brings us, as a group, closer to the faculty we work with, extraordinary student interns, the academic lab and maker facilities, and the cutting-edge research that’s a building block of our incubator. Still, it’s a long way from our humble, windowless origins — at the awards event during which we recognized some of our earliest supporters, Steven Kuyan, Managing Director of the Future Labs, recalled. “We started as an on-campus incubator for university students and faculty in the basement next to the gym locker room. It was a place that was always leaking and nobody wanted to go to it.”
Back in 2009, both the school and the program had entirely different names: NYU Tandon School of Engineering was the Polytechnic Institute of NYU, and the Future Labs were the Varick Street Incubator and ACRE. Pat Sapinsley, NYU Tandon Managing Director of Cleantech Initiatives and the Urban Future Lab, highlighted the mission-driven incubator’s effects since: “After 10 years, 90% of our ACRE companies are still up and running,” she said. “There’s a reason for that: Our brilliant entrepreneurs and a tremendous 10 years of support from both NYU and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA).”
The earliest champion of the effort to bring together entrepreneurship and technology at the university was Jerry Hultin, former President of Polytechnic University and NYU-Poly and now Chair of the Board of Governors at the New York Academy of Sciences. The university administrators wanted to help brilliant, enterprising young people invent a better future — and a program dedicated to tech entrepreneurs involved taking on a not-insignificant amount of risk. “I remember saying to the provost, ‘We have to hire a couple of innovation professors,’” President Hultin recalled. “And he said, ‘Do they exist?’”
During his tenure as Dean of NYU Tandon, Katepalli R Sreenivasan embraced this push to foster an environment in which students learned about building world-changing technology. “Jerry started something, and it grew,” said Dean Emeritus Sreenivasan. “Thanks to its leaders, and to people like yourselves. And thanks to the supporters of this enterprise, from the city, the state, the borough, businesses, and civic institutions.” Looking ahead, he emphasized that support from our partners and a refusal to rest on our achievements will drive the Future Labs to further successes.
And the successes of our startups have been many. NYU Tandon’s Dean Jelena Kovačević highlighted statistics of which we can be proud. “I am now, for better or worse, the face of this network of innovation and entrepreneurial hubs that have graduated more than 120 companies, who along with current companies, are valued at north of $1.8 billion dollars,” she told the audience. “On top of that, 26 companies have been acquired for a total sum of over $530 million.” In fact, in the midst of our event, gratifyingly well-timed news broke of yet another exit.
Recognizing our supporters
Several founders of Future Labs companies presented awards to our supporters on behalf of our portfolio past and present. Ryan Urban, CEO & Founder of digital marketing company BounceX, offered the first, recounting his company’s start at the Data Future Lab with 3 employees — BounceX now has a staff of over 400. “This is an actual community,” he said. “The people that I was in this incubator with, I’m still friends with. We not only stayed in touch, we collaborated on a lot of things.” This support from the Future Labs and one of our founding sponsors, the NYC Economic Development Corporation, made BounceX’s early success real. He presented an award to Karen Bhatia, Senior Vice President, NYC EDC, who accepted it on behalf of James Patchett, President & CEO.
“NYU Tandon and Future Labs have been critical partners for bringing tech and entrepreneurship to New York City throughout the past decade,” Bhatia said, crediting efforts by programs like the Future Labs for New York’s ranking as the #2 tech ecosystem in the world. Hearing that companies like BounceX have created 400 jobs? “Music to my ears.”
Kathy Hannun, CEO & President of Urban Future Lab graduate Dandelion Energy — which has grown across New York, providing geothermal energy for residences — presented an award to Alicia Barton, President and CEO of NYSERDA.
“If New York was its own nation, it would have the 13th largest economy in the world,” said Hannun. “And Alicia Barton and her team have set our breathtaking targets for the cleantech for the state, including having a carbon-neutral electricity sector by 2040.”
Barton pointed out that it’s thanks to companies like Dandelion Energy that such targets are made realities. “Where we were 10 years ago in this business really doesn’t resemble where we are today,” she said. “NYU and the Urban Future Lab were at the forefront of that, but it was a small group of us, compared to where we are today. This is where we’re building the solutions and the technologies that will actually help us tackle climate change.”
Ro Gupta, CEO and Cofounder of Carmera, the fast-growing street-level intelligence platform for autonomous vehicles, noted that his cold email to the Digital Future Lab got Carmera into the program. “Carmera’s relationship with the Future Labs has easily been the most successful and symbiotic academic partnership of my professional career,” he said. This was in part thanks to Peter Fusco, partner at Orrick, Herrington & Sutcliffe LLP, to whom Gupta presented an award recognizing Fusco’s strong support over the years. Fusco has offered his pro-bono legal help to Future Labs companies from the early days of the Future Labs, supporting startups through arduous multinational sales agreements, all stages of financing, acquisitions large and small, and everything in between.
Fusco explained that a friend, Anand Sanwal (founder of CB Insights, then at the Data Future Lab), introduced him to the program in 2009. “He called me and said, ‘They’re doing something really cool down here. You should come check this out.’ And it became, to me, one of the most meaningful relationships of the past 10 years.”
Finally, outgoing Director of the Veterans Future Lab James Hendon (recently appointed as the next Commissioner, NYC Department of Veterans’ Services) presented an award to Kurt Becker, Vice Dean of Research, Innovation, and Entrepreneurship at NYU Tandon.
“If the Future Labs were a restaurant, Kurt would be the executive chef,” said Hendon. “Technology changes, and Kurt has keep us lean, mean, and agile throughout the years” — fundamental to our long-lasting success.
Vice Dean Becker explained that his ambitions for the Future Labs have simply mirrored New York City’s own ambitions, its own need for growth. “Future Labs was implemented here in New York City, right after the financial crisis, because the city was hungry to create an entrepreneurship ecosystem and embrace startup culture.”
Ten years later, New York is one of the strongest entrepreneurship ecosystems on the planet, and we’re proud to have been part of its story. In a fitting culmination of the evening, the Future Labs were presented with a proclamation by Senator Velmanette Montgomery. Now, as we look to the decade ahead with our feet firmly in Brooklyn, our commitment remains: To keep New York City a world leader in innovation and entrepreneurship.
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Words: Annie Brinich (email@example.com)
Photos: ©Thomas: Courtesy of NYU Photo Bureau