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Startup ecosystems need an outward looking university: Micah Kotch

As the second biggest tech environment in the country, New York needs a major research institution that is radically outward looking. NYU seems well on its way to filling that space here.

Team at work in the Urban Future Lab. Photo by Brady Dale.

Silicon Valley has Stanford and Boston has MIT. A mature startup ecosystem needs some major institution working hard to turn research into products, and investors in those places learn that those institutions are fountains of profitable ideas, said Micah Kotch, Director of Innovation and Entrepreneurship at NYU Engineering.

It’s clear that NYU is intentionally working to connect its faculty, students and alumni to the broader business world, as Kotch confirmed, with each of its campuses located right in the middle of the city’s most active startup scenes.

Kotch’s role mainly puts him in charge of the incubators that NYU runs around the city. We’ve covered their impact before, but these incubators are different in that they don’t take equity from the companies inside them.

Instead, Kotch explained that creating incubators gives students a chance to serve as interns in startups and that many of the startup leaders to arise from the incubators end up serving as adjunct faculty. It also makes it more likely that faculty can turn their research into products, which directly benefits NYU.

The latest incubator in Kotch’s portfolio is the Urban Future Lab, which will go beyond simply fostering startups working to solve the problems of urban systems. We wrote about its opening last week. It will also incorporate K-12 STEM education, with a city focus, and house PowerBridge NY.

We discussed the obvious problem that some of the most troubled cities also don’t have money to spend on their expensive solutions. Kotch explained that while these startups are aiming at opportunities at an urban scale, their customers may not necessarily be the government.

“Cities can be incredibly difficult to navigate, but there’s also a tremendous opportunity in real estate, energy, transit, waste and food systems,” he said. “Ultimately, the scale and customer base of cities is a great opportunity.”

The Urban Future Lab has a philosophical bent toward startups that enhance resilience. In other words, large systems with fewer big failure points, more redundancy but still reducing waste.

He also said that they have a strong inclination to foster the immigrant entrepreneur. If there are companies doing transferable urban work in Denmark or the UK, NYU Engineering wants to give them a place to work from Brooklyn. For example, NYU hosts Dr. Bob Currie, CTO of Smarter Grid Solutions, a Scottish company that has five engineers in the incubator now, working on helping ConEdison use software to better manage electricity.

While visiting the lab we also met the founders of Radiator Labs and Bandwagon, both of which we have written about previously (here and here), and the cofounder of Sistine Solar, a company using aesthetics to increase adoption of solar power.

Here are some photos we took of the Urban Future Lab, from the top floor of 15 Metrotech Center, in Downtown Brooklyn.

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Companies: NYU Tandon School of Engineering
Series: Brooklyn

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