From the Lab to the Marketplace

Jin Montclare, an associate professor of chemical and biomolecular engineering at the Polytechnic Institute of New York University (NYU-Poly), and grad student Carlo Yuvienco have developed an e-learning platform that promises to change the way the world learns chemistry. Called “Lewis Dots”—after the common molecular diagrams in which elements are depicted as letter abbreviations and electrons and bonds are represented by dots and dashes—the app allows students to drag periodic elements and electrons around a touch screen, learning about chemical bonding in the process. The platform also lets them save images of their work and easily share it with other students or teachers.

But having the talent and skills to develop a cool, new product doesn’t necessarily mean that you have the know-how to successfully bring it to market. Enter the National Science Foundation’s New York City Regional Innovation Node (NYCRIN), a consortium of CUNY, NYU and Columbia that is part of the NSF’s groundbreaking Innovation Corps (I-Corps) program. I-Corps aims to prepare academic researchers to become entrepreneurs and speeds the commercialization of their research.

On April 2, the first teams chosen to participate in NYCRIN gathered in Brooklyn for the program kickoff. Montclare, Yuvienco, and Andrew Cohen, a graduate of the Varick Street Incubator, and founder and CEO of the e-learning company Brainscape, who is serving as their mentor, were among the crowd. “Existing e-learning tools sometimes miss the mark,” Yuvienco explained. “But we believe that ‘Lewis Dots’ could be revolutionary for chemistry students.”

NYU Entrepreneurial Institute Programs Director Lindsey Marshall agrees that the Poly team has the potential to be a game-changer. “All the teams here do,” she asserted. “If they take advantage of everything the I-Corps program has to offer, we will be seeing a lot of success stories soon.” Marshall, along with NYU Entrepreneurial Institute Executive Director Frank Rimalovski and NYU-Poly Director of Incubator Initiatives Micah Kotch are among the members of the NYU and Poly community who will be teaching the researchers the I-Corps curriculum, which centers on “lean start-up development,” a rapid process popularized by well-known serial entrepreneur and professor Steve Blank.

The participating teams, which hail from colleges and universities across the country, have all conducted NSF-funded research that resulted in technology with the potential to be commercialized.  They represent a wide array of fields, including cloud computing, robotics, genetics, green power, big data and medicine.

Addressing them at the kickoff, Rathindra (Babu) DasGupta, an NSF program director, said, “We are not investing in your ideas, or your labs, or your technology. We are investing in you!” He continued, “Participating in I-Corps will not be easy, and we will demand a lot of you. But I promise that if you stick with it, it will change you, and you, in turn, will change the world.”