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An entrepreneurial force to be reckoned with

Sunthetics is an unstoppable competitor in the entrepreneurial arena

Professor Miguel Modestino with Ph.D. candidate Daniela Blanco, and alum Myriam Sbeiti after winning $150,000 the PowerBridgeNY competition.

Ph.D. candidate Daniela Blanco, Professor Miguel Modestino, and alum Myriam Sbeiti after winning $150,000 at the PowerBridgeNY competition (along with a $1,000 audience choice award)

If you passed Professor of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering Miguel Modestino, Ph.D. candidate Daniela Blanco, and alum Myriam Sbeiti (’18) in the halls of Tandon, they would look just like any other faculty member and his students. You would probably not look twice, and you certainly would not discern any reason for fear. Yet if you faced this same trio head-to-head on the entrepreneurial stage, fear would be justified because together they form a formidable entrepreneurial juggernaut, winning competition after competition as they leverage technology developed here at Tandon to make chemical manufacturing processes cleaner.

Their latest victory came at the PowerBridgeNY competition, held in late April. Funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), PowerBridgeNY’s mission is to turn cleantech innovations born in academic research labs into strong, viable businesses. The $150,000 prize they garnered at the event (along with a $1,000 audience choice award) will be used to grow Sunthetics, the company they founded in 2017.

Sunthetics is based on a method developed in Modestino’s lab to eliminate oil from the energy-intensive process of making nylon. Instead of unsustainable fossil fuels — water, plant waste, and solar energy are used to deliver a material identical to the nylon widely used in the fashion industry. Sunthetics’ impressive solar-powered reactor uses 50% less energy than conventional methods while removing 20% of carbon emissions from the manufacturing process. The groundbreaking method is of interest not just to the fashion industry, which produces millions of tons of petrochemical-based nylon each year, but to anyone in the broader chemical-manufacturing world seeking greener production methods.

The research portion of their work lies at the intersection of multifunctional material development and electrochemical engineering (since electrochemical devices are ubiquitous in a broad range of energy conversion technologies and chemical processes). In order to bring the technology to market, where it can make a real societal impact, they’re relying on business skills also developed at NYU Tandon.

Those skills are paying off in a big way: in addition to their recent PowerBridge win, they’ve garnered a $100,000 Technology Venture Prize (part of the NYU Stern $300K Entrepreneurship Challenge), the $20,000 top prize in the InnoVention Competition at Tandon, and a $20,000 Stage II VentureWell grant. Excitingly, they also took top prize in the hotly contested University Startup World Cup, which attracted dozens of teams from around the globe to network with established entrepreneurs and investors and compete for the title of Best University Startup. (Yes, that’s best university startup in the entire world.) Daniela Blanco was also named Global Champion at the 2019 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards in Macao last month.

At NYU Tandon we have stressed the importance of entrepreneurial thinking for years, and there’s no better example of what entrepreneurship at NYU Tandon is all about than Sunthetics, Blanco, Sbeiti, and Modestino. It’s a perfect example of what can happen when a dedicated faculty mentor and brilliant students join forces in a school culture based on innovation.