Our NYU: May 2019
A Note from President Hamilton
As we continue the sprint toward finals, I am reminded of the bittersweet fact that many among us will soon be leaving NYU to put knowledge to practice. I feel so proud when I see members of our community making their mark in the world. Sometimes those signs come in unexpected places. Just the other day, Jennie and I were riding the train, and the entire subway car was covered in ads for the bedding company Brooklinen. I nudged Jennie and said, “The people who started that went to NYU!”
The company was founded by Vicki Fulop (CAS ’07) and Rich Fulop (SPS ’07, STERN ’14), who launched it several years ago because they believed people might like to have hotel-quality bed linens in their own homes. Judging by the $10 million in funding they’ve raised, they were on to something.
The Fulops drew upon NYU’s growing entrepreneurship community, taking part in the Summer Launchpad program and receiving an investment from NYU’s Innovation Venture Fund. Indeed, as entrepreneurship has taken hold here, a vast ecosystem of dozens of initiatives across the University has evolved to provide tools to help people get ideas off the ground.
Stern’s W. R. Berkley Innovation Labs’ $300K Entrepreneurs Challenge, for example, drew more than 240 competing teams, and the winners will be announced this month. The Leslie eLab, a center that allows aspiring entrepreneurs from all of NYU’s schools and colleges to connect, collaborate, and develop their start-ups, has attracted well over 120,000 visitors since it opened in 2014. Tandon’s Future Labs bring together a network of incubators and accelerators that support cleantech, start-ups for US veterans, and early-stage ventures. There are also start-up initiatives at the NYU Langone Medical Center as well as in Shanghai and Abu Dhabi; and entrepreneurship courses are woven into the fabric of many of our degree programs, from business to film to social work.
This diverse infrastructure fosters a varied mosaic of ideas and initiatives, from platforms that encourage young people to vote (Motivote) to clothes that make you fit just by wearing them (Physiclo)! As a result, our alumni are making an impact in countless ways, both in enhancing our daily lives and raising the bar for corporate social responsibility practices. Did you know, for example, that NYU graduates founded Ben & Jerry’s (SPS), Audible.com (Courant), and Etsy (Gallatin)? And many alumni come back to take part in venture coaching, lead workshops, and mentor others. One point of pride for us is that NYU produces female founders at nearly twice the rate compared to MIT or Stanford, according to a recent analysis by PitchBook. And NYU ranks sixth in the nation for producing female-led companies that go on to receive VC funding.
The resources at NYU support not just the practical side of starting a venture, but an entrepreneurial mindset: the exploration of ideas, creativity, and innovation, regardless of where career paths may lead. For those who want to dip their toes in the water or jump right in, I can’t think of a better community in which to do so (and I’ll keep my eyes peeled for those subway ads).
On a more serious note, I find myself once again compelled to address recent tragic events—this time in Sri Lanka and California. Last month, our community joined together for a vigil mourning the Christians targeted in the church and hotel bombings, only to be greeted soon after with yet another fatal shooting at a synagogue in Poway, California.
Despite their frequency, it’s still difficult to witness these hateful events directed at people at worship—like others that have occurred around the world this year, in New Zealand, Pittsburgh, and Louisiana. I also want to call your attention to the resources we have available for those of you who may need help during this time.
The occurrence of violence and extremism should be a reminder to us all in the NYU community of the importance of compassion and inclusiveness. As we prepare to disperse, either for summer break or to start a new chapter after graduating, it is my sincerest wish that we never take these values for granted.
We have a number of sibling pairs here at NYU, including Peter (STERN ’21) and Amy Rothstein (STEINHARDT ’14), the brother and sister duo behind DONA, a company that makes tea concentrates and sodas and was launched in 2014. Amy has a food studies background and handles the recipes, product development, marketing, and sales, while Peter manages the finances and business operations.
Students with the next big idea—from holographic pets to sensor-enabled beehive lids—can get help bringing them to life through the Prototyping Fund, a collaborative program offered by the Design Lab @ NYU Tandon MakerSpace and the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute. The $500–$2,000 awards enable teams to build prototypes and connect them with the resources, tools, and mentors needed for launch.
Fostering creativity is a hallmark of our entrepreneurial-minded coursework. In a graduate class called Herbs, Nutraceuticals, and Supplements at NYU Meyers, nursing students learn about the therapeutic properties of herbs and create medicinal herbal products including liniments, throat sprays, and moisturizing salves.
Part of encouraging an entrepreneurial mindset culture means cultivating ideas found in every corner of the University. At the law school, for example, the NYU Law Venture Fund helps students launch their business ideas. The fund recently awarded $15,000 summer grants each to Riley Jones (’20), Phantila Phataraprasit (’20), and Danny Fein (’21) for their start-ups focused on career development software, sustainable furniture, and digital heirloom software, respectively.
NYU Abu Dhabi has become a regional driver of entrepreneurial activity in the Middle East, thanks to startAD, which helps people launch, develop, and scale their ventures. Since its inception in 2016, more than 100 start-ups from 37 countries have raised $12 million, secured pilot projects, and been recognized with global design and product awards.
Thomas Edison famously said that genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, and the Tandon Future Labs are focused on the second half of that equation. Their network of technology acceleration and commercialization hubs for start-ups was launched in 2009 and incubates a broad range of ventures, including data and digital-focused enterprises, companies launched by US military veterans and spouses, and initiatives devoted to clean energy and artificial intelligence.
There is no shortage of stereotypes—and statistics—about “bro culture” among start-ups, but here at NYU we are flouting them. Though nationally, women-led companies receive only two percent of venture capital funding, at NYU we have a significant representation of women across our programs and ventures.
Throughout NYU our initiatives connect the community with movers and shakers in industry. The NYU Production Lab is a creative incubator whose programs train artists and storytellers to think like entrepreneurs. This semester the lab partnered with Vice Media through workshops and panels in which students had access to media mentors as they developed short-form documentary story ideas, which they will pitch to Vice executives and producers.
Three NYU Shanghai students have won the National Championship for China in the L’Oréal Brandstorm 2019, a global business innovation competition that challenges students to devise fresh branding and marketing ideas for the cosmetics industry and to build feasible business cases. The contest draws more than 34,000 contestants annually. Jennifer Tao (’21), Angela Zheng (’21), and Eileen Shiang (’21) will go on to compete in the world finals in Paris.
It seems fitting that, in an issue of Our NYU dedicated to entrepreneurship, we also have occasion to celebrate the achievements of our very own Yann LeCun (third from right, with colleagues), Silver Professor of Computer Science at Courant and recipient of this year’s Turing Award for breakthroughs in artificial intelligence. Yann’s research focuses on deep learning and convolutional neural networks, which are the foundations of modern computer vision, speech recognition, and image synthesis—technology that has aided many an entrepreneur in devising the products that are now part of the fabric of our daily lives.
I had the pleasure of celebrating the opening last month of the NYU Dentistry Oral Health Center for People with Disabilities, a unique facility providing dental care for people with disabilities. I was struck by the center’s innovative design and dedicated and compassionate staff. The center also has a multisensory room designed to reduce patients’ anxiety and engage their senses, and features technologies created by the NYU Ability Project.
Finally, talk about a start-up... I was delighted to see that the three hawk eggs have hatched, and new eyasses (or baby hawks) have joined the world! For live viewing of their progress (not to mention a good excuse to take the occasional study break), be sure to check out the NYU Hawk Cam.