Posted January 19th, 2016
Varick Street Incubator
It’s not uncommon for writers and artists to seek residencies—programs that provide physical facilities, networking opportunities, and conditions conducive to creativity. In exchange, the institutions offering those residencies may get the right to exhibit any completed artwork, a ready source of guest lecturers, and the prestige of being affiliated with acknowledged talents in their fields.
Now in its third year, the Faculty Engineer in Residence (F-EIR) program at the NYU School of Engineering allows for a similar sort of symbiosis. Professors from various disciplines, many of them with extensive entrepreneurial experience of their own, make themselves available to advise start-up companies within the university’s burgeoning incubator system; in return, the incubator companies provide Tandon students with fellowships, mentoring, and the chance to apply classroom learning to real-world problems.
The basics of the program require the professors to hold regular office hours at the three incubators the university maintains (in DUMBO, on Varick Street in Downtown Manhattan, and right in the MetroTech Center); encourage students to apply for NYU’s numerous entrepreneurial competitions, such as the Prototyping Fund and InnoVention; integrate entrepreneurship into their curriculum; and nominate and mentor SPIKE (Skill-based Program for Incubator Knowledge and Employment) fellows. To lend support to the professors and their students, the Incubators provide a $5,000 per year stipend to fund entrepreneurial activities for use by each Faculty Engineer in Residence, offer generous in-kind resources, and allow a student venture to use flexible incubator space for up to three months.
Steve Kuyan, NYU Tandon managing director of incubators and entrepreneurship, points out that that the incubator program has already had impact on the ecosystem at the University, saying, “Between the competitions, fellowships, teaching engagements and close affiliation with the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Association (EIA), the incubators have become a tremendous resource on campus.” Now, with the expansion of the F-EIR program, the incubators are making even more of an impact. Kuyan elaborates, “Faculty Engineers in Residence will not only support our incubator companies through domain expertise, they will learn from the entrepreneurs and take that knowledge back to their students and integrate it into their classes. And with the close affiliation to the SPIKE Fellowship at the Incubators, the program will have a net strong impact on everyone involved for many years to come.”
Dean Katepalli Sreenivasan strongly agrees, asserting, “Faculty Engineers in Residence will play a critical role in breaking conventional barriers between academic and entrepreneurial thinking. Companies will benefit from access to their immense technical knowledge, the faculty will be exposed to cutting edge technology, and their students will get an unprecedented opportunity to learn alongside some of the most exciting startups in New York City.”
This year, eight faculty members have been named to the F-EIR program. Read on to learn, in their own words, what each hopes to contribute and to gain as a Faculty Engineer in Residence.
Justin Cappos (Department of Computer Science and Engineering):
“I’ve been a Faculty Engineer in residence since the program was launched, and it’s a great situation for both the start-ups and my students. Much of my research and teaching centers on internet privacy and security, so my students have especially enjoyed running security checks for the companies. That way, they get to participate in real-world work rather than merely academic exercises, and the companies are able to call upon eager, young security experts with the latest knowledge and tools at their disposal. Most universities don’t provide that level of partnership and engagement, so we’re really at the forefront of something important.”
Vittoria Flamini (Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering):
"Some of my recent graduates have founded their own start-ups, a couple of which have been part of the NYU incubators, so I’m especially honored to have been chosen as a Faculty Engineer in Residence. I’d like to facilitate an incubator visit by the Tandon chapter of the Society of Women Engineers, which I advise, and my future plans include a course on biomedical technology, regulation, and entrepreneurship that will integrate my experiences in the program.
I’m also really looking forward to interacting with the mechanical and biomedical engineering start-ups; given my work in translational research with the Langone Medical School, I'd love to help some of them get in touch with clinicians and surgeons, who are often drivers and early adopters of technologies that can improve patient diagnosis and outcome."
Ryan Hartman (Department of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering):
“I returned to academia from industry, so being part of the Faculty Engineers in Residence program is an interesting and exciting prospect for me. I feel really privileged to be at an institution where we can not only teach and conduct our research but also be presented with entrepreneurial opportunities for our students. The translation of laboratory discoveries to the real world is among today’s greatest challenges to economic growth, and I expect that the incubator companies and our students will work together to overcome that challenge. Another challenge, the identification of the technical requirements necessary to develop technology, requires critical and creative problem solvers with teamwork skills. We’re going to be producing graduates prepared to address such challenges, and that’s beneficial for everyone.”
Mike Knox (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering):
“I’m one of the original Faculty Engineers in Residence, so I’ve been having fun helping our startups since the program started. Even before then, however, I tried to instill an entrepreneurial mindset in my students. I tell them that it’s terrific to graduate with a degree from NYU but it would be even better to graduate with the degree and your own company. Undergraduates are here for four years, and if they devote their spare time to developing a product and business (rather than sitting around playing video games) they can accomplish a lot. They can join clubs like Patent Pending, enter competitions like Inno/Vention, and get wonderful internships at our startups thanks to programs like SPIKE.”
Constantine Kontokosta (Department of Civil and Urban Engineering):
“A major hurdle for start-ups is the demonstration and deployment of their technologies in a real-world environment. I’ve been leading the Quantified Community research projects at Hudson Yards and now in Lower Manhattan and Red Hook. We’re using sensors to collect information on human mobility, air quality, energy consumption, and other measurable quality-of-life indicators, in an effort to use big data to make cities more efficient and livable. There will be opportunities for early-stage incubator companies, especially those involved in cleantech and civic technologies, to become involved and be exposed to the opportunities and challenges of the urban innovation. In turn, I hope my students will form close collaborative relationships with the start-ups and gain experience in the real-world laboratory that is New York City.
As a Faculty Engineer in Residence, I look forward to working to build an entrepreneurship pipeline for my students and to help incubator companies bridge the gap between idea and commercialization.”
Claudio Silva (Department of Computer Science and Engineering):
“My primary research interests are in visualization, geometric computing, data science, sports analytics, and urban computing, and I have a strong interest in bridging the gap between academia and industry. Simply put, I like to build cool stuff that is useful to people. And there is no better way to get those ideas out in the real-world than through entrepreneurship. Being a Faculty Engineer in Residence, enables me to help great ideas come to market.”
Fred Strauss (Department of Computer Science and Engineering):
“I am excited to have been selected to join the faculty Engineer-In-residence program. As the Computer Science Senior project advisor I’ve been fortunate to have had the opportunity to mentor students in NYU School of Engineering innovation competitions and act as a guide for their work with start-up companies in the incubators. Through this appointment I will be working not only to enhance the student experience, but also to be able to provide engineering support and guidance to incubator start-up companies.
You just need to look at some of the senior design projects my students have been working on to realize how capable they are of developing innovative, commercially viable ideas—a new text-messaging system that makes use of custom emojis, a service that matches gamers with similar abilities and interests . . . the list could go on. I like to ask my students, ‘What’s the last great idea you had, and what path can you take to make it happen?’ My being a Faculty Engineer in Residence opens up a lot of possibilities for them. I expect them to win internships, bring their energy and excitement to the incubator companies, and even found their own start-ups. I want to thank the dean and members of the program for this opportunity”
Quanyan Zhu (Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering):
“My current goal is to assist the incubator companies in the area of smart energy systems, automation, and data analytics. I plan to interact with the technical staff members there and integrate the results of my work into the existing curriculum on energy systems and urban infrastructures in my department. The students will have opportunities to develop cutting-edge technologies as a team, gain entrepreneurship experience through internships and mentorships, and maybe one day see their own companies at the incubators. It’s a synergistic situation that will make NYU a powerhouse of innovation in technology.”