i²e Gala Honors Established and Rising Entrepreneurs

As the first full moon of spring rose in the clear night sky behind him, Jerry Hultin, president of Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), invited the more than 300 guests seated before him to take in the panoramic view. Dressed in evening attire, he and the crowd occupied the 61st floor of the iconic Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan, site of the inaugural i2e Gala. 

Taking its name from NYU-Poly’s guiding principles of invention, innovation and entrepreneurship (or i2e), the event celebrated those ideals by honoring Glenn Britt, chairman and CEO of Time Warner Cable (TWC), and Paul Soros, founder of Soros Associates, two innovators who have made considerable contributions to education.  

The gala also recognized the winners of the Inno/Vention contest, which concluded earlier that day, as well as raised $625,000 for the Promise Fund, NYU-Poly’s largest scholarship pool. Since its start 18 years ago, the fund has assisted 8,300 undergraduates; in this academic year alone, more than 1,000 students were aided by the merit-based fund.

Nodding at the New York City skyline visible from the glazed walls of the event space, Hultin acknowledged the view as evidence of feats of engineering conquered by NYU-Poly alumni and as argument for nurturing talented engineers and technologists in the years ahead. “The world faces a dizzying array of challenges requiring scientific technological solutions,” he told the audience. “It is crucial that we cultivate highly skilled and innovative engineers and scientists to meet those challenges.”

Britt, who received the i2e Leadership Award that evening, agreed. “We understand how important innovation is to surviving in our highly competitive industry,” he said, as he accepted the award. To that end, TWC has forged initiatives such as Connect A Million Minds, which organizes educational and networking opportunities to promote the STEM (science, technology, engineering and  math) disciplines, and NYU-Poly’s own Inno/Vention contest, which challenges students across NYU campuses to develop concepts for technology-based products that have a high social impact.

The evening continued with Hultin thanking Paul Soros, the recipient of the i2e Innovator of Distinction Award, for his “support of creative entrepreneurship, for [his] work as an inspiration to these young entrepreneurs in the room tonight and for [his] generosity.” Attendees rose to their feet to honor the alumnus, who escaped from a Russian prisoner-of-war camp in his youth before immigrating to America and eventually founding Soros Associates, which now handles a third of the world trade in bulk materials such as coal, bauxite and iron ore.

The gala concluded with the announcement of the 2012 Inno/Vention winners. Finalist Ryan Knutsen, who had spent the better part of the day going through the finalists’ rounds, said he “was nervous in the beginning, but now I’m just here to have fun.”

Victory wasn’t in Knutsen’s grasp this year (view the list of winners here), but Randy Frey, a member of NYU-Poly’s board of trustees, didn’t view the loss in a discouraging light. “You’ve got to be persistent just to make it through engineering school,” he said. “If you carry that persistence and drive to make something special happen — entrepreneurial or design-wise — you can make a difference.”