NYU Tandon Future Labs celebrates 10 years of tech and innovation
On Oct. 10 in its new home in 370 Jay Street, NYU Tandon Future Labs reflected on its humble beginnings — a university incubator in the basement of 6 MetroTech Center.
“It was a place that was always leaking and nobody wanted to go to,” Managing Director Steven Kuyan said. “The entire strategy behind the university’s focus on incubators was written down and drawn on a napkin.”
Born in true entrepreneurial and start-up fashion in 2009, the Future Labs began as a partnership between NYU Tandon School of Engineering, the City of New York, Empire State Development (ESD), New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), and New York Economic Development Corporation (NYC EDC) in response to the financial crisis of the early 21st-century. The formation of the incubators came from the need to diversify the city’s economy and grow the tech ecosystem, which has quickly been achieved, with NYC now ranking as the second strongest tech hub behind Silicon Valley.
Kuyan claims that it may appear that the Future Labs were an “overnight success,” yet the programs have been a long time (tech-wise) in the making, achieving a long list of milestones within the span of a decade. Just five years after the Future Lab’s launch on Varick Street, the Urban Future Lab, the first location to take the Future Labs name, opened at the NYU Tandon campus. The Future Labs have proliferated, establishing the Data, Digital, Urban and Veterans Future Labs, now all in Brooklyn, and launching ProtoShop, a prototyping space in Veterans Future Lab, just last year.
Some of many accomplishments across the Future Labs include:
Data Future Lab
CB Insights – joined in 2009 (first cohort) with 4 employees, now the world’s leading data intelligence platform
Vettery – Hiring marketplace acquired for a reported $100+ million after graduating
BounceX – the behavioral marketing platform now has 400+ employees
Geometric Intelligence – the AI startup, cofounded by NYU professor Gary Marcus, was acquired by Uber to become the core for Uber AI Labs
TapCommerce – the mobile ad startup acquired for a reported $100M by Twitter
Launched the AI Nexus Lab in 2016, the US’s first AI accelerator-style program between a university and a venture fund
Urban Future Lab
From the only New York City Accelerator for a Clean and Resilient Economy (NYC ACRE) incubator to a family of 4 programs under the Urban Future Lab brand (‘NYC ACRE’ is now ACRE, H2 Refuel Accelerator, NYPA Innovation Challenge, and Clean Start — all programs partially funded by NYSERDA)
Anellotech (graduated 2013) – has raised over $80 million (from notable corporate strategics and “in-kind contributions”) and makes renewable industrial chemicals and fuels (benzene, toluene, xylene from bio-sources)
Great contributors to job growth, including Honest Buildings (joined incubator in 2011, graduated 2013 and acquired by Procore, raised ~$48 million total, 90+ employees) and Dandelion Energy (joined 2017, graduated 2018, raised ~$22.5M, 70+ employees)
Digital Future Lab
Carmera – Urban mapping for autonomous vehicles, with partnerships with Brooklyn Navy Yard, Toyota (in Tokyo), Lear, and more
Today, the Future Labs network has seen 25+ acquisitions totaling 530+ million, 120+ graduates and a portfolio valuation (current and graduating) of 1.8+ billion. These numbers were proudly projected on screens in the conference room, but Kuyan’s voice swelled with immense pride when referencing the “debt of gratitude” to the countless number of people who have stuck with Future Labs since the beginning.
Kuyan introduced Dean of NYU Tandon Jelena Kovačević, who stressed the importance of partnership and collaboration in Tandon’s relationship with Future Labs.
“We view our students with the same sense of initiative — this drive to create our own solutions to problems of societal relevance and value discoveries of the past but not rely on them entirely,” Kovačević said. “The Future Labs are an extension of this innovation, connecting Tandon, all of NYU, Brooklyn and the entirety of New York City.”
In addition to Dean Kovačević, Kuyan acknowledged Dean Emeritus Katepalli Sreenivasan and former president of Polytechnic Institute of New York University Jerry Hultin for the legacy they helped create at Future Labs. Both spoke in gratitude of the past and in hope for the future of the network of incubators, with Sreenivasan pointing out that “it is not about necessarily doing more, but doing better.”
Pat Sapinsley, Managing Director of Cleantech Initiatives at Urban Future Lab, touched upon their mission of connecting people, capital, and purpose to advance market-ready solutions to address climate change, specifically addressing the inspiration the lab aspires to provide the young engineers at NYU Tandon.
“It is in our fermented efforts to get NYU Tandon students to be enthusiastic about this mission, because they are the ones that are going to solve it — it’s their generation and their skills, and we need them,” Sapinsley said.
To recognize some of the organizations and individuals who have supported Future Labs since their creation, awards were presented by successful start-ups that have been impacted by their contributions, embodying a real appreciation of the past, present and future of Tandon’s technological growth.
NYC EDC / Karen Bhatia, Awarded by Ryan Urban (Bounce X)
NYSERDA / Alicia Barton, Awarded by Kathy Hannun (Dandelion)
Orrick / Peter Fusco, Awarded by Ro Gupta (Carmera)
NYU / Kurt Becker, Awarded by James Hendon (Veterans Future Lab)
Steven Kuyan and Dean Kovačević highlighted the Veterans Future Lab’s director James Hendon’s new appointment to New York City’s Veterans Advisory Board, illustrating not only the pride in what Future Labs creates, but the sense of family that embodies the network of incubators.
As the festivities concluded, Kuyan announced that they had just received news of acquiring DeepMagic, a startup focused on unattended, automated retail. But the talent of Tandon’s tech remains rooted in the emphasis on bettering the community and the city within which we live, which will continue to drive Future Labs into their next chapter.
“The metrics that matter are the number of truly extraordinary people we’ve had the pleasure of incubating,” Kuyan said.
Anna De La Rosa
BS, Media, Culture, and Communication
Class of 2021