The State of NYC’s Digital Economy in Q2 2021: Universities


The first quarter of 2021 saw NYU’s Entrepreneurial Institute begin its new Technology Venture Program, intended to launch the next generation of NYU technology based ventures. This effort sought to build upon a foundation that over the years led to the creation of 150 startups, 3,200 jobs and an economic impact of roughly $4.1 billion.

Columbia, which over the years has contributed to the launch of over 200 startups through its Columbia Technology Ventures program created a centralized pool of licensable IP, together with 15 universities that included Brown, Harvard and UC Berkeley.

The first quarter of the year also saw Cornell Tech Roosevelt Island expand its ‘Break Through Tech’ program to propel more women and underrepresented groups to pursue tech education, careers and leadership opportunities. The economic impact of the City University of New York (CUNY) was also noted in a report by City Comptroller Scott Stringer, which found that CUNY graduates in 2019 collectively earned $57 billion.


At the tail end of the first quarter, but included in this report, was a look at the level at which NYC Universities and Business Schools generated founders of Startup companies. 

According to the latest dataset available to Crunchbase news, which seeks to provide data-driven information on private markets, startups, founders and investors, Columbia ranked number 7 among US schools with 115 of its graduates going on to form Startups. 

Excluding business schools, which were ranked separately, it was the only NYC based university to be included in the rankings, which stop at number 37. While not in NYC, Cornell in Ithaca ranked 5th with 143 founders and was the only other New York state based university. 

NYU’s Stern School of Business joins Columbia in the rankings for top business schools that generate startup founders. Here Columbia ranked 4th with 64 founders and NYU ranked 8th, with 30 founders. They are the only two NYC based business schools to be included.

The above rankings are based on examining companies that raised their last private funding rounds in 2020 and 2021 and raised $1 million or more and it should be noted that the rankings rely on Crunchbase founder profiles, many of which are said to not include university affiliation. 


NYU’s substantial commitment to the environment was highlighted in the second quarter of 2021 both in terms of its efforts in relation to the Carbon to Value initiative and its efforts in relation to the circular economy and can also be seen in its university-wide pledge to reduce food-related greenhouse gas emissions by 25% over the next decade. 

C2V Program

According to Pat Sapinsley, managing director of clean-tech initiatives at the Urban Future Lab / ACRE at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, the act of reducing greenhouse gas emissions itself won’t be enough to keep global warming at manageable levels. She says that carbon dioxide must be removed from the atmosphere.

Providing leadership in this area together with partners Greentown Labs and Fraunhofer, in the second quarter of this year NYU launched the Carbon to Value Initiative (C2V) acceleration program, which seeks to create an ecosystem for the commercialization of technologies that capture and convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into valuable products or services – an area known as ‘carbontech.’

While Sapinsley has stated to green design site INHABITAT, that over 100 gigatons of carbon must be removed from the atmosphere by 2050, she further said that analysts predict that this need could lead to a trillion dollar market opportunity, in “sectors as diverse as fuels, cement production, industrial gases, chemicals … polymers and new materials.”

The accelerator program selected 10 startups for 2021 and these “innovative young companies” will be connected with industry leaders in chemicals, advanced materials, energy and other sectors who can “provide the resources and market access necessary to enable rapid commercialization of carbontech.” They will also be provided access to Greentown Labs 100,000 square feet of lab space. 

Of the roughly 400 startups globally in the industry, which is still in its early stages, Sapinsley says that 131 of them, representing roughly 25%, applied to the program.   

Circular Economy Efforts

According to the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, a circular economy is characterized by designing out waste and pollution right at the start of a project; reusing, repairing, and remanufacturing products and materials so that resources don’t continue to get wasted; and regenerating natural systems so that in addition to protecting the environment, people can actively improve it.

For these reasons, the focus is said to be on “maintaining products, components, and materials at their highest possible value for the longest possible time,” and is markedly different from sustainability. 

A whole set of circular economy related efforts by NYU were recently recognized by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation, which seeks to accelerate the transition to a circular economy and to this end has created a community of higher education institutions.

Such recognized efforts include the Design Lab @ NYU MakerSpace’s incorporation of circular design; certain student projects in the Urban Food Lab; the Circular Design @ the MakerSpace initiative; the NYU FREEEdge food sharing initiative; and the creation of a green entrepreneurial ecosystem among others. 

NYU Tandon Associate Professor of Innovation, Design and Organizational Studies Anne-Laure Fayard who is key to NYU’s efforts stated that her students will be among those to change the “take-make-waste linear economy into a circular one.”


During the second quarter of the year, CoinOut, a data platform founded by a member of Columbia Startup Labs’ first group, Jeff Witten, was acquired by IRI, a provider of solutions and services for consumer, retail and media companies. 

Started while Witten was still at the Columbia Business School in 2014, CoinOut is at the forefront of gathering data on consumer purchases and providing related insights, capturing billions of consumer product purchases yearly and having over 1.5 million members including large retailers and market research firms, according to a statement on Columbia’s Entrepreneurship Innovation and Design site. 

According to IRI, such a scope compares favorably with other industry players, who will typically have data from only a few hundred thousand people, and along with its ability to integrate data from multiple sources including point-of-sale (POS), loyalty cards and consumer panels, it is anticipated that CoinOut will be able to assist the company in providing ‘more accurate, more representative and more granular,’ insights into the key area of understanding consumer purchasing behavior. 

The acquisition will assist Chicago-based IRI build out its omnichannel offering to its clients which includes OTC health care organizations, retailers, financial service firms and media companies, by integrating data received from Coin Outs’ panel. Included in IRI’s partner ecosystem are companies such as Adobe, Experian, Facebook and Google. 

Another Columbia Startup Lab Alum, Text IQ, already ranked the top 85th artificial intelligence company in the world by publication Analytics Insight, was acquired by global legal and compliance technology company Relativity.

Ranked together with such companies as Deep Mind, Google AI and IBM, Text IQ focuses on “deep learning models that scale horizontally across massive data sets,” and is especially adept at “uncovering risk buried in unstructured data,” according to a statement on the Columbia Entrepreneurship Innovation and Design site. 

According to Relativity, the current state of AI mere “scratches the surface,” of what can be done and with most of the industry’s legal and compliance data “already [living] within the Relativity ecosystem,” ‘seamless integration’ with Text IQ will “deliver on the promise of AI in a way [the] industry has yet to experience.”

As a specific example, the company, which includes 198 of the AmLaw 200 firms; thousands of organizations globally; and 300,000 users, says that it will be able to provide complete and rapid responses to security breaches and with less concern as to errors. 

Categories: Comparative Advantage, Digital Economy, Next Generation Impact, Universities Incubators & Pipeline

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