From more efficient buildings to making international tutoring accessible, this year's InnoVention teams got rewarded for their hustle and vision
Before Dan Zhang (‘25) had even taken his first undergraduate class, he was game to try a new engineering challenge: the Tandon Made Challenge, which called upon incoming students to team up to solve pressing global problems. He and his teammates ended up with a winning idea, developing an autonomous drone capable of flying along the shoreline to find and collect trash.
After that successful introduction to NYU Tandon’s entrepreneurial ecosystem, he dove in further and soon met yet another business-minded peer, Gallatin student Ailin Jia (‘25), who needed tech help to bring her idea to fruition.
Aspiring college students in the U.S. have so many academic resources not readily available in other countries, including high-quality tutoring, she thought. What if there were a service to match them with college-age tutors who could not only help them with subject-specific work but give solid advice on everything involved in earning a degree in the U.S.
The two teamed up to create Ivy Road, launching it initially in the Chinese market and offering tutors knowledgeable in subjects ranging from algebra to music. (They hope to expand to other countries eventually.)
Anyone who signs up receives a free hour-long consultation, during which the prospective student gets personalized advice and a chance to hear a first-hand account of what university life is like from the large roster of tutors Zhang and Jia have already recruited.
Ivy Road recently won the Grand Prize in Tandon’s New York-based InnoVention, an annual event that is part accelerator and part competition. Supported by the Tandon Future Labs, InnoVention challenges student-led teams to validate, prototype, and pitch commercially viable technology ventures that address a practical need. In recognition of their idea’s viability and marketability, Zhang and Jia will each get a full-time, paid 12-week internship devoted to further developing Ivy Road, which started the InnoVention process while still just a concept but has already started to generate revenue.
The InnoVention judges also singled out another competitor: EaSEE Bot, a device that helps ensure the safety and efficiency of a building’s “envelope” — a term that encompasses elements such as walls, doors, windows, roofs, foundations, and siding that mark the separation of the interior and exterior of a structure. EaSEE Bot will fly around the structure, auto-generating a 3D model using advanced computer vision and AI techniques, Bilal Sher (‘22), a co-developer and CEO, explains. The drone will also be able to scale buildings and use long-wave radar and machine learning to detect hidden deep moisture penetration and other major defects.
EaSEE Bot had originally been developed under the guidance of Associate Professor Semiha Ergan of Tandon’s Building Informatics and Visualization Lab (BILab) and Professor Chen Feng of the Automation and Intelligence for Civil Engineering (AI4CE) Lab, and in 2021 it won $200,000 in funding from the U.S. Department of Energy, which they earmarked for further prototyping and testing.
Bilal and his teammate, Beyza Kiper (‘25), also represented New York in the Global InnoVention Challenge, which pits students from Brooklyn and Washington Square against those from NYU Shanghai and NYU Abu Dhabi. Shining on that international stage, they took home the top global prize of $25,000, which they will use to hire aspiring hardware engineers and roboticists from Tandon. “We want students to grow right alongside the company,” Bilal, who was also awarded a paid internship from Tandon IIIE and the Future Labs, says.
(A third team, Baton, made up of Tisch ITP students and dedicated to facilitating collaboration among musicians, was also awarded an internship after the New York competition.)
Vadim Gordin, the Director of the Tandon Future Labs A/X Venture Studio and coordinator for Tandon Startup Competitions, who mentored the teams, says, “These three teams had big shoes to fill–previous InnoVention winners Cresilon, BotFactory, and Sunthetics, to name just a few, are all operating thriving businesses working to improve their corners of the world through technology. This year’s winners more than rose to that challenge, with all three securing commitments for their first customers and two of them raising capital from outside of NYU. I’m thrilled to have worked with them and look forward to seeing what they build in the future.”
For their part, the teams are equally thrilled for the chance to have worked with him. “In addition to the encouragement of our family and friends, we owe a collective thanks to Vadim for his continued support and insights throughout the challenge and the summer,” Zhang concluded.