A Much Needed SIP: Summer Incubation Program for Student Startups

At weekly lectures, SIP attendees listen to business experts discuss topics such as product development and how to pitch

What’s better than a sip of something cool on hot days? For entrepreneurs, that would be a Summer Incubation Program (SIP), a three-month student program organized by the Polytechnic Institute of New York University’s (NYU-Poly) Entrepreneurship and Innovation Association (EIA).

Open to the NYU community at large, SIP has drawn members from the university’s Stern School of Business, Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service, and, of course, NYU-Poly since its start last month. Divided into six-week segments, the program offers networking opportunities and talks by prominent members of New York’s startup community during its first half before segueing into the competition in the weeks remaining. 

At that halfway point, participants presented their business ideas at an event called Making the Cut. Frank Rimalovski, director of NYU’s Venture Fund, and Fred Wilson, founder of Union Square Ventures and NYU and NYU-Poly Board Member, were two of the judges at the event where all eight teams presented their projects. The top four were chosen to present at the final Demo Day on August 22. Remaining sessions following Demo Day are open to all teams and students. The winning individual or team, who will be announced on August 22, receives multiple prizes: patent support through NYU-Poly, a cash reward, a paid internship during the fall semester, access to an accountant and attorney, as well as a dedicated workspace at NYU-Poly’s Varick Street Incubator (VSI), where like-minded entrepreneurs proliferate.

Already SIP participants get a flavor of the environment at the VSI where the weekly, two-hour evening speaker series take place. There attendees, who have averaged about forty hours per week, listen to business experts discuss topics such as product development and how to pitch. For instance, Steven Kuyan, Assistant Director of the NYU-Poly Incubator Initiatives and advisor to the EIA, recently counseled SIP participants against embedding videos in PowerPoint presentations. Besides potential technical difficulties that could arise, the split second it takes for the video to load and display gives busy executives an opportunity to check their email or other distraction, taking their attention away from entrepreneurs hoping to gain financial backing. You want to stick to your main goal of engaging the audience, Kuyan said.

Lighting a Fire: SparkStart and the EIA

Real-life advice like that is what Kuyan believes is valuable about the SIP, which comes on the heels of SparkStart, another EIA-sponsored competition that took place in the spring. Unlike other such contests at NYU — the Stern Business Plan Competition and Inno/Vention, for example — SparkStart lasted just 10 days, not months. Kuyan and EIA president Derrick Hsiou, a senior studying business and technology management, said they saw too many would-be competitors drop out of the more established contests due to fatigue. A competition with a shorter timeframe would interest more students, they argue, because it’s hard to maintain momentum during the busy school year. The duo saw an opportunity in what happens (or, rather, doesn’t happen) to participants after the competitions: the follow-up. That opportunity is, in fact, what prompted the SIP’s creation.

“We wanted to be the first to have an incubation program for students and curated by students,” explained Kuyan. “That’s what a lot of these competitions are missing, continuity and support beyond just the cash prize at the end. We are aligning EIA with the groundswell of startup activity in NYC and through SIP we are opening new paths towards commercialization for student ideas that would have otherwise been abandoned.”

Whereas other contests incorporate the same elements as the SIP, such as mentorships, networking events, and business advice, the program is held over the summer, allowing students, free from academic burdens, to devote full attention to their projects. The program has also benefited from the energy and excitement generated by SparkStart, as well as the buzz that has surrounded the EIA itself.

The student club formally incorporated just seven months ago, but already it’s attracted 500 interested parties to its newsletter. It also drew a sizable crowd to the first SparkStart mixer in April. “There is incredible science happening all over NYU-Poly, and there are many ways to translate that science into real-world applications. These mixers bring together the multiple parties who can make many of those projects happen,” wrote Elizabeth Lusskin, the Institute’s chief of staff, in an email after the event. “It’s exciting for everyone involved and allows each to see new possibilities for their own work and for NYU-Poly.”

Lusskin’s enthusiasm is shared by many at NYU-Poly and affirms Kuyan’s good work: He seeded the EIA before graduating from NYU-Poly last year, and noticing the difficulty students were facing when trying to find a job. “That’s obviously the first thing we’re trying to tackle,” he says about the EIA, “make sure people are equipped out of college with the skills to have options, whether it’s working for someone or starting their own venture.”

“I can point to dozens of people in the club who have done great things in class, and they were cut off at the end of the semester. We wanted to put something in place at the student level to help them commercialize,” he continued, warming to the subject. “We wanted to be that resource. It’s not just theory for us. Its real-market application, with real companies being formed, creating real products and generating real revenue.”

Harsh My Mellow or When a Business Incubator Loves Too Much

Games 2 Education or G2E is one team taking Kuyan at his word. The trio, composed of NYU-Poly sophomores Miles Gopie and Jay Suong, as well as high school student Porrith Suong, were involved in SparkStart and went on to the SIP. The program has been instrumental in helping them more clearly define their goal of developing an action-filled, educational video game, and they cite the SIP’s organizational and planning lessons as especially valuable. If anything, the team craves a more critical response from the supportive group at the VSI, who Gopie wishes would be “a bit more harsh on us.”

“It would be a lot easier to see our flaws,” he says, “but other than that, they’ve been great with advice. They’ve certainly helped us.”

Whether G2E wins or loses the SIP competition, the team and all the other participants have gained important connections in New York’s and NYU’s community of entrepreneurs. Their familiarity with the VSI is also likely to help should they apply for future tenancy in the space, and they can draw from their SIP experience if they decide to enter other business competitions in the coming school year. “Definitely they’ll have a leg up,” says Hsiou, “The experiences the participants have accumulated will be beneficial to them regardless of the career path they choose to pursue.”

Ever the cheerleader, Kuyan interjects, “We want all the teams to win. If we could, we’d hand out prizes to everyone.”

Participating in the SIP may be victory enough.

EIA and SIP is supported by NYU-Poly alumni Anthony Dalleggio and Stanley Tager as well as NYU-Poly board members Fred Wilson and Rudolph Wynter. For more information on EIA visit: www.NYUPolyEIA.org