President Hultin: Higher Ed Essential for New York’s Future as Global Leader in Innovation

Polytechnic Institute of NYU President Jerry M. Hultin thinks that institutions of higher education like NYU-Poly that turn their research into new products and services are essential to New York becoming a global leader in innovation.

Speaking on a panel at an installment of the Levin Institute’s Innovate New York series on June 9, President Hultin pointed to several developments at NYU-Poly and New York University that have contributed to New York City becoming more innovative over the two years since the series began. The Levin Institute created the series in collaboration with the New York Academy of Sciences and the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation, which funds the series, to explore the city’s potential to become a global leader in innovation across sectors.

Polytechnic joined NYU in 2008 to empower faculty and students to take their research out of academia and into the world, President Hultin said. Since the affiliation, the two have established several venture funds to ensure that research survives the “valley of death” — the place where promising technologies often end up on their way from the lab to the marketplace.

NYC Seed, a venture fund for technology startups that NYU-Poly created in 2008 in partnership with the State of New York and an arm of the Partnership for New York City, among others, is one example. Another is the $20 million NYU Innovation Venture Fund that NYU established this year.

President Hultin also noted the filled-to-capacity 160 Varick Street business incubator, a collaboration between NYU-Poly, the New York City Economic Development Corporation, and Trinity Real Estate. Varick Street’s 35 companies have collectively raised more than $15 million in venture funding and created 110 jobs in one year.

While NYU-Poly’s and NYU’s efforts to fund new companies and innovative research applications are promising signs for New York’s future, President Hultin said that academic institutions and government-funding agencies face challenges trying to figure out how to best encourage innovation and distribute research dollars. “The old way was pretty much publication and peer review, that’s great for basic research,” he said, but not the way to create a culture of innovation. He mentioned a pilot program that the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health have designed called STAR METRICS that measures the effectiveness of scientific investments as a way to spark more creative, innovative research environments.

“NSF has said, ‘Come on, open the window. If you create jobs with this grant, if you make social change with this grant, we’ll consider [it],’” explained President Hultin. “That’s an experiment and a huge leveraging factor that could completely change our universities, faculty, and presidents and start pushing [research] towards the marketplace.”

To read more about the June 9 panel, go to The Levin Institute where you can also learn about Innovate NY, the partnership between The Levin Institute and the New York Academy of Sciences that gave birth to the Innovative New York series.