Future Labs at NYU Tandon Boost Startup Successes and New York Economy in 2016

Check to ACRE/Urban Future Labs

The year 2016 will close with a remarkable statistic for New York’s entrepreneurial community: The city’s premier university-led technology acceleration and commercialization hub, the Future Labs at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, will continue to report a survival rate  of nearly 90 percent, far exceeding the typical startup success rate of 10 percent for young companies nationwide.  To date, 68 startups have emerged from the Future Labs since inception in 2009, and the total valuation of all Future Labs graduates surpassed $1 billion in 2016.

“This is an important year for the NYU Tandon startup support ecosystem.  We successfully completed the transition from an incubator network, which supported primarily  early-stage startups, to the Future Labs, a technology acceleration and commercialization hub whose focus is on supporting startups during their early growth phase, between seed stage and Series A financing,” said Kurt H. Becker, NYU Tandon vice dean for research, innovation and entrepreneurship. 

“This year we have seen large investments in the companies and graduates of the Future Labs and important new milestones such as the first partnership between a university and venture fund to create New York City’s first accelerator-type program for artificial intelligence (AI) startups, called the AI NexusLab,” he said. “In 2017, we will expand the concept of our AI NexusLab to other technology areas such as virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR), intensify our entrepreneurship training program for military veterans and other support for veteran-owned startups, and expand our network of international partners.

Other 2016 highlights:

The Future Labs

Future Labs house about 45 startups in three technology sectors of critical importance for New York: data-driven and data-intensive technologies, digital technologies, and clean energy/smart city technologies.  The startups have access to a broad and deep portfolio of support services that guides them through a milestone-driven growth period that typically lasts 18-24 months. 

Strong government and private sector support continued for the Future Labs; the Empire State Development Corporation renewed funding for five years at $125,000 annually, the Regional Economic Development Council provided $1 million toward the build-out of the Veterans Future Lab, and the New York Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) continued its support of cleantech activities.  Private sector sponsors of the Future Labs include Lowenstein Sandler LLP, National Grid, Wells Fargo, and Verizon.

“Our network of resources and expertise continues to grow as we focus on niche technologies,” said Steven Kuyan, managing director of incubators and entrepreneurship. “We are constantly learning from our companies and curating the appropriate resources to catalyze their success. We are also launching new programs around our core competencies of artificial intelligence, augmented reality, virtual reality, and programs directed toward military veterans. This focus ensures that we can support a wide range of startup companies throughout their lifecycle while expanding our entrepreneurial support proficiency to a broader audience.

Data and Digital Future Labs

This year marked the renaming of the Varick Incubator as the Data Future Lab and the DUMBO Incubator as the Digital Future Lab. The change reflected a focus on technologies with parallel research within NYU Tandon and broadly at NYU. With graduates like Clarifai and the recent acquisition of Geometric Intelligence by Uber, the Data Future Lab is poised to be the hub of data and AI activity in New York City. The Data Future Lab is equipped with computing infrastructure and access to leading researchers to support AI and other technologies.

The Digital Future Lab supports companies in augmented reality, virtual reality, virtual machines, and others that seek to digitize analog technologies or processes.

“We're excited to have companies like Paperspace and faculty such as Mark Skwarek researching virtualization and AR within the Digital Future Lab,” Kuyan said.

AI NexusLab

With ff Venture Capital (ffVC), the Future Labs at NYU Tandon launched the AI NexusLab, the first AI partnership between a venture fund and a university to launch and support pre-seed startups in New York. A cohort of five companies will progress through a meticulously designed AI-specific program, and they will receive dedicated space at the Data Future Lab for the four-month program and direct investment capital from ffVC. This funding provides working capital for the companies and supports AI NexusLab services including curated access to talent, partners, customers, AI experts from NYU and the NYU ecosystem, computing power, and a community of AI companies in the Data Future Lab.

The inaugural five AI NexusLab startups were selected from applications from across the world in industries as diverse as finance, the connected hardware known as the Internet of Things, marketing, software, health, medical, advertising, education, and natural language processing.

Veterans at the Future Labs

Since June 2015, 35 military veteran entrepreneurs graduated in three cohorts of the Veteran Entrepreneurship Training (VET) program, and four veteran-owned companies incubated in the pilot veteran incubator housed in the Digital Future Lab.

The Veteran Future Lab secured significant funding in 2016 including a commitment of $100,000 in in-kind legal support from Duane Morris Pro Bono, sourced through the Deloitte/Bunker Labs national partnership; $25,000 awarded by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA) Growth Accelerator Fund in partnership with the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce; $25,000 as part of the Lowenstein Sandler sponsorship and $30,000 of funding secured by New York State Assembly Member
Joseph Lentol.

The Urban Future Lab and ACRE

The Urban Future Lab (UFL) at NYU Tandon hosts programs focused on educational, policy, and market solutions to the issues of energy efficiency, cleantech, and sustainability. These include ACRE, New York City’s incubator for smart cities, smart grid, and clean energy; PowerBridgeNY, a cleantech proof-of-concept center; and Clean Start, a cleantech workforce development program.  The UFL won the prestigious 2016 Startup Supporter of the Year award from The Northeast Clean Energy Council. The award is given annually to an organization or individual for outstanding support of cleantech startups, entrepreneurs, and the growth of the cleantech innovation ecosystem in the Northeast.

In 2016, ACRE graduated seven companies from the program and another seven were accepted into the incubator with more companies expected to be announced in the coming months. In 2016, ACRE strengthened its ties with the national Incubatenergy Network and became a member of the Network for Global Innovation (NGIN), an international network of cleantech startup programs.  In December, Wells Fargo presented a $100,000 check to support ACRE’s work with entrepreneurs.

“It is exciting to lead the NYU Tandon Urban Future Lab and ACRE during a time of historic growth and interest in the cleantech, smart grid, and smart city spaces,” said Pat Sapinsley, managing director of cleantech initiatives at the UFL. “Due to our extensive overseas partnerships and work with international companies, ACRE is becoming recognized around the world for fostering companies and graduates developing transformative technologies that will enable greater energy and resource efficiency measures. In 2017, the UFL will continue playing a vital role in developing market-tool solutions to energy and environmental challenges.”

Under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s Reforming the Energy Vision (REV) policy initiative, utilities are incentivized to adopt new technologies and business models for building the grid of the future, and of the 13 REV demonstration projects initiated since the policy was implemented a year ago, six involve ACRE portfolio companies.


In 2016, seven Future Lab companies were accepted into START-UP NY, four from the Data Future Lab (Geometric Intelligence, BoardVitals, Rabt, and Avanan) and three from the Digital Future Lab (Bubbl, Carmera, and Lighthouse.io). START-UP NY is a New York State program offering new and expanding businesses the opportunity to operate tax-free for 10 years on or near eligible university or college campuses in the state. Partnering with these schools gives businesses direct access to advanced research laboratories, development resources, and experts in key industries. 

Ecosystem Support

Flash Pitch, the city’s premier monthly pitch competition for entrepreneurs, hit the one-year milestone with multiple successes: More than 350 companies applied, 81 companies pitched, 40 investors participated, an average of 125 attended per event, 16 companies  received investment capital, and six joined programs such Y-Combinator, 500 Startups, and Techstars.

In 2017, the Future Labs will join with Verizon to launch a series of thought leadership panels on AI, VR, and AR featuring speakers from academic research, startups, and industry-leading companies. The first AI event is scheduled for January 17, 2017, at the Data Future Lab.

Startups Off to a Fast Start

Future Labs companies that made news this year included:

  • Geometric Intelligence was acquired for an undisclosed amount by Uber to launch Uber AI Labs.
  • Clarifai raised the largest-ever venture financing for a New York City AI company, a $30 million Series B round.
  • United Wind, the global leader in distributed wind power, closed its Series B round with investments from global energy leaders Statoil, Total, and TEPCO. It also received a commitment for more than $200 million in project financing from Forum Equity Partners to roll out approximately 1,000 projects across the United States.
  • Sealed raised $7.5 million from the NY Green Bank for residential energy efficiency projects.
  • Opus One Solutions closed a Series A round with investments from ENGIE and Energy Impact Partners – a utility-backed fund representing seven of North America’s largest utilities – and multiple project awards from five utility companies in the United States and Canada. With ACRE graduate Smarter Grid Solutions, it won a $16.4 million transactive energy contract, and the two were awarded Greentech Media’s Grid Edge 2016 Award.
  • Avanan raised the largest-ever Series A financing for any incubator company at the Future Labs (as opposed to one of the graduates) – $14.9 million. It also recently identified a new cyberattack targeting online shoppers’ Office 365 credentials.
  • Paperspace launched Paperspace ML, an iteration of its powerful cloud workspace for machine learning. Rentable by the hour, Paperspace ML opens the opportunity for anyone, anywhere to access computing infrastructure for machine learning.
  • Bandwagon announced a partnership with Arro, allowing taxi riders to pool rides and split fares in New York’s yellow and green cabs.  
  • Board Vitals was acquired for an undisclosed amount.
  • WeDidIt won a $500,000 grant in the prestigious 43North competition.
  • Alexapath was tapped as on one the world’s more promising science startups and the representative of NYU and the United States East Coast at the Falling Walls Venture conference and competition in Berlin; It also won the American Society of Mechanical Engineers competition for Best Hardware-Led Social Innovation.
  • Vengo Labs pitched on Shark Tank and raised $2 million.

Note: Images available at http://dam.poly.edu/?c=1874&k=ac055ae6ad

About the NYU Tandon School of Engineering
The NYU Tandon School of Engineering dates to 1854, when the New York University School of Civil Engineering and Architecture as well as the Brooklyn Collegiate and Polytechnic Institute (widely known as Brooklyn Poly) were founded. Their successor institutions merged in January 2014 to create a comprehensive school of education and research in engineering and applied sciences, rooted in a tradition of invention, and entrepreneurship and dedicated to furthering technology in service to society. In addition to its main location in Brooklyn, NYU Tandon collaborates with other schools within the country’s largest private research university and is closely connected to engineering programs in NYU Abu Dhabi and NYU Shanghai. It operates business incubators in downtown Manhattan and Brooklyn and an award-winning online graduate program.