NYU's Tech Incubators Boost City's Economy, Resiliency

Business incubators of the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering—home to 53 young technology companies—recorded a banner year in 2014, marked by growth on multiple fronts. Highlights included opening a dedicated clean-tech and clean-energy space in Downtown Brooklyn as well as becoming one of two private-university incubators in the city to be named by New York State as START-UP NY development zones with tax-free opportunities for growing companies.

Since 2009, when NYU’s Varick Street Incubator launched in partnership with the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC) to become the first city-sponsored incubator, the university’s network of incubators has grown to three locations, in both lower Manhattan and Brooklyn, and the combined economic impact of the companies has reached a cumulative $352.4 million with 1,256 new jobs created.

“I am very pleased with the growth in 2014 of our incubator initiative,” said Katepalli R. Sreenivasan, NYU School of Engineering president and dean. “It shows how much a research university can bring to the local innovation economy. Focusing on the global issue of resiliency, integrating academic knowledge, and taking an international approach to entrepreneurship all led to demonstrable benefits for companies, faculty, students, the city, and the region in 2014. The incubator initiative has created within the university an environment of innovation from which can bubble up many new ideas, some of which may become very valuable.”

Contributions by the NYU School of Engineering Incubators last year to New York’s thriving innovation economy included:

  • 138 companies—including those currently in the incubators and those that “graduated” to larger spaces or otherwise moved on—generated an estimated $85.7 million in revenue.
  • Twitter acquired TapCommerce, a mobile advertising technology company founded by an NYU alumnus and housed in the NYU Varick Street Incubator.
  • Three start-up companies graduated from the NYU Varick Street Incubator into larger quarters; all founded by NYU alumni: CourseHorse, a platform to find and book classes, Vettery, an online job-search platform, and Two Lines and a Dot, a process design consulting company.
  • The NYU DUMBO Incubator also graduated two companies, KISI, a wireless access management company, and FileMobile, a platform for gathering, organizing and broadcasting social content. The latter graduation was through an acquisition by Newzulu, bringing the total number of acquisitions at the incubators to 8. 
  • Bounce Exchange, which graduated in 2013, recently moved into the largest headquarters of any former NYU Incubator company:  30,000 square feet of space, in Times Square. The company was co-founded by an alumnus of the NYU School of Engineering, and its product predicts what website visitors need in real time in order to convert them to customers.
  • Smart Vision Labs, a DUMBO Incubator company that developed a wireless device to test people’s vision, earned $1 million in funding from the inaugural Verizon Powerful Answers Award contest.
  • Swyft Media, a mobile advertising network based at the Varick Street Incubator, surpassed
  • 2 billion mobile users this year and earned $250,000 in funding as the grand prize winner of the Miller Lite “Tap the Future” business competition.
  • Two companies raised capital through successful Kickstarter campaigns: BotFactory, which was founded by NYU alumni to develop desktop electronic circuit printers, and VidCode, an online platform co-founded by two NYU alumnae to teach teenage girls how to code video effects.
  • Two other companies won highly competitive National Science Foundation grants totaling $1.5 million as part of the U. S. government’s Small Business Innovation Research Program.

The March opening of the NYU Urban Future Lab in 15 MetroTech Center within the School of Engineering’s Downtown Brooklyn locus marked a new chapter in the city’s foremost clean-tech/clean-energy incubator— the New York City Accelerator for a Clean and Resilient Economy (NYC ACRE). For the first time since its launch in 2009, NYC ACRE now operates in a space solely dedicated to the clean-technology sector. In addition to support for the start-up companies of NYC ACRE, the Urban Future Lab showcases innovation and provides educational and workforce training focused on sustainable infrastructure and urban resilience.
The Urban Future Lab is supported by grants from the NYCEDC and concentrates local, city, and state resources for the clean-technology sector in a single location. New corporate sponsorships include ADT Security Systems, National Grid, and Verizon, as well as in-kind support from the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce and the Urban Green Council. The creation and ongoing operation of the Urban Future Lab is expected to generate more than 9,000 new jobs by 2025.
Founded in 2009 as a public-private initiative to accelerate technology into the marketplace, drive economic growth, and engage the academic community in entrepreneurial ventures, the NYU School of Engineering incubator network continued to grow its cooperative ventures in 2014. Samsung this year became the major corporate sponsor.  It joins the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA), which supports NYC ACRE;  the law firm of Lowenstein Sandler, the longest-running corporate supporter; and Empire State Development Corporation.

“At NYCEDC, we are fostering a business environment where entrepreneurs can afford to take risks,” said NYCEDC President Kyle Kimball. “Our incubators provide affordable working space and collaborative environments to help New Yorkers bring their great ideas to market and provide access to economic opportunity across the five boroughs. The successes of the companies nurtured here over the last year demonstrate that incubators are an investment with a huge return for the city.”

Sponsors provide more than financial support for the budding companies: Many offer access to their networks and business development services, and they often serve as mentors to entrepreneurs. In exchange, they may get insight into emerging markets and technology, learn of potential partners and acquisitions, or even hold hackathons at the incubators to develop new uses for their products and services.

New support also arrived this year from Google, which welcomed the NYU Incubator into its selective Google Cloud Platform program, providing every NYU Incubator company with $100,000 worth of cloud credits to help them quickly accelerate their businesses.

The NYU network also grew its international outreach this year. Through newly launched partnerships and programs, the incubators are widening opportunities and exposure for their start-up companies while providing a launchpad into New York City’s entrepreneurial community for overseas entrepreneurs:

  • In September, the NYU School of Engineering; the German American Chamber of Commerce; the Borough of Brooklyn; the Berlin Cleantech Business Park and Innovation Center; and the Berlin Senate Department for Economic Affairs, Technology and Research agreed to collaborate on research and entrepreneurial support including workshops and conferences, particularly through PowerBridgeNY, a proof-of-concept center that takes clean technology from the labs to the startup stage. The agreement expands the international perspective of the school’s entrepreneurial initiative, giving faculty, students, and incubator companies deeper understanding and ties to Berlin.
  • In October, the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy and Vice Chancellor of the Federal Republic of Germany joined dignitaries to open the New York outpost of the German Accelerator, which brings the most promising German technology startups to New York City. The NYU Varick Street Incubator houses and supports the German entrepreneurs who rotate through the program.
  • The First Minister of Scotland officially opened the Urban Future Lab office of Smarter Grid Solutions and signed an agreement for future business collaborations with incubator start-up HEVO Power.
  • The Danish Cleantech Hub showcased its nation’s solutions during the House of Green exhibit at the Urban Future Lab.

NYC ACRE startups won other significant awards and marked significant achievements in 2014 including:

  • The ride-sharing platform Bandwagon won a Verizon Powerful Answers Award, a grant from the Department of Energy to operate in Hawaii, and a New York City Challenge Cup Presented by 1776 award, a Shanghai Urban Commuter Challenge award, and the company expanded its services to United’s Newark Liberty Airport terminal.
  • BlocPower, which works with community leaders and institutions to put energy-efficient technology into non-profits, houses of worship, schools, small businesses, and multi-family residences in financially underserved communities, was named a finalist in NYCEDC’s Resiliency Innovations for a Stronger Economy competition--a global competition to help small businesses impacted by Hurricane Sandy prepare for future storms, sea level rise, and other effects of climate change–and it was the winner of the Verge Accelerator startup competition.
  • HEVO Power was named a finalist in the CleanTech Open Northeast.
  • Radiator Labs won a Verizon Powerful Answers Award in the Sustainability category, the New York Energy Week Startup Showcase Award, and the Invention Award 2014 from Popular Science.
  • R/GA and Techstars announced their first class of entrepreneurs specializing in connected devices, and both Enertiv and Keen Home were chosen for the highly competitive cohort. Enertiv designs, manufactures, markets and installs energy monitoring systems for commercial and institutional facilities, and Keen Home develops environmentally sustainable automation products for the home.