Two NYU Tandon teams are Austin-bound for the South by Southwest Innovation Awards

students holding 3d printed devices

Members of the MakerBrace VIP team displaying orthotic devices created using 3D-printing technology

Since launching in 1987 as a small music festival, South by Southwest (SXSW) has burgeoned into what is widely acknowledged as one of the foremost curators of creativity, cutting-edge tech and thought leadership in the world. Held annually in Austin, Texas, SXSW now attracts tens of thousands of attendees to its 10-day line-up of keynote talks, panel discussions, interactive demonstrations, film openings, concerts, and more.

One of the most hotly anticipated events each year is the SXSW Innovation Awards, which recognize the most exciting emerging tech developments across 13 categories. This year, two Tandon teams stood out in the crowded field as leaders in student innovation and climate, culture & social impact, and they’ll be headed to Austin on March 14 for the 2020 Finalist Showcase. (Winners will be announced at an awards dinner on March 16.)


The MakerBrace: Prototyping a more affordable future for orthotics

The MakerBrace is the work of an interdisciplinary team led by Victoria Bill that uses advanced 3D-printing technology at the NYU Tandon MakerSpace to try to improve the lives of some of the 17 million people worldwide living with cerebral palsy. The group, which takes part in NYU Tandon’s Vertically Integrated Projects program, points out that while orthotic devices like braces can help those with cerebral palsy and other mobility disorders perform everyday activities and gain independence, the cost involved – particularly in the case of a child who will quickly outgrow a device – can be prohibitive.

To mitigate that problem, the team is designing and fabricating low-cost, highly adaptable, 3D-printed braces, working under the supervision of occupational therapists and clinicians. Thanks to a strong partnership with NYU Langone’s Rusk Rehabilitation Center, they’re taking their skills from the classroom to the real world: they have now tailored devices for several actual patients, all of whom have shown positive improvement in function.


Sunthetics: Manufacturing a cleaner future

Your hoodie may soon be made in a greener, more sustainable way thanks to Sunthetics. Founded by alum Myriam Sbeiti (’18) and doctoral student Daniela Blanco and based on technology developed in the lab of Assistant Professor Miguel Modestino (Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering), the company is developing AI-optimized chemical reactors for the sustainable manufacture of nylon intermediates, using 30% less raw material and 30% less energy and reducing manufacturing costs by 20%.

The founders envision the process being of interest to not just the fashion industry — which produces millions of tons of petrochemical-based nylon each year, thereby generating significant emissions of carbon dioxide — but to anyone in the broader chemical-manufacturing world seeking greener production methods.

Sunthetics team at university start-up world cup
Daniela Blanco and Myriam Sbeiti of Sunthetics at the University Start-up World Cup

Sunthetics had its genesis when Modestino, an NSF CAREER Award laureate who now serves as senior tech advisor, won a 2017 Global Change Award from the H&M Foundation for his development of a process that uses photovoltaic arrays, which generate electricity from the sun, to drive the synthesis of hexanediamine (HDA), one of the existing precursors to nylon. That was, however, just the first of the awards the technology has received: Sunthetics garnered a $100,000 Technology Venture Prize (part of the NYU Stern $300K Entrepreneurship Challenge), the $20,000 top prize in the Innovention Competition at Tandon, a $20,000 Stage II VentureWell grant, and top prize in the hotly contested Greentech category of the University Startup World Cup. Additionally, Blanco was crowned champion at the 2019 Global Student Entrepreneur Awards (GSEA), and at that year’s Minds & Tech Competition, held in Toulouse, France, she was deemed Brightest Mind in the field of artificial and collaborative intelligence.

Competitors in Austin might be justified in feeling nervous.