University & Incubator Contributions to NYC’s Digital and New Economies in 2021 Q3

NYC’s Pandemic Response Institute to be Created and Led by Columbia University and Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr

On September 29, the Office of the Mayor, the New York City Economic Development Corporation (NYCEDC), and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH) announced the selection of Columbia University to launch, operate and coordinate NYC’s Pandemic Response Institute (PRI), which is intended to help the city prepare for future health emergencies.

The institute will be led by Dr. Wafaa El-Sadr of Columbia’s Mailman School of Public Health where she is a professor of Epidemiology and Medicine and the director of its ICAP center, which works on large, evidence-based health programs in a wide variety of areas including HIV prevention, tuberculosis and reproductive health. 

According to the ICAP site, since she founded the center in 2003, Dr. El-Sadr has worked with populations across the world including those with limited healthcare infrastructures, and as to the COVID-19 pandemic, her work has resulted in over 4,238,977 people screened for COVID-19, 11,771 health care workers receiving training, and 1,000 health facilities receiving COVID-19 related support. In a statement, Rachel Loeb, NYCEDC’s President and CEO highlighted that Columbia University, along with partner, CUNY Graduate School of Public Health (SPH) had shown a “high level of expertise that was unmatched” in dealing with the pandemic thus far.

Aided by $20 million in city capital funding, Dr. El-Sadr and Columbia will coordinate a consortium of academic, community, government and corporate partners, which includes the United Way of New York City, the Emergency Medicine All Threats (EMAT) Leadership Forum, the Columbia School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, the Columbia Data Science Data Institute, Columbia Technology Ventures, and the Columbia Doctors Network among others. As mentioned above, CUNY SPH will also serve as a key partner. Dr. El-Sadr stated that the effort “will create an unprecedented nexus for engagement, expertise, and resources from across our city and beyond that will enable us to equitably prepare, predict, prevent, detect, respond to, and recover from major health emergencies.”

Being among the leading infectious disease experts in the city, Dr. El-Sadr has previously outlined the weaknesses the pandemic exposed, such as in supply chain gaps and community disconnects, along with the need for a new focus on advancing the health of communities and populations through preventative methods such as those utilizing public health hubs that would ideally be situated in every community.

On its site, Columbia stated that the vision for the Pandemic Response Institute would be one of “sustained, cooperative action to mitigate future illness, suffering and deaths, and to reduce the glaring disparities associated with public health threats,” and that health solutions would be ‘locally tailored,’ and involve working closely with residents of the city and the various communities found within.

Specific, it was shared that the institute will:

  • Garner involvement from a broad cross-section of New Yorkers and NYC institutions, forming a true whole-of-society effort that empowers local communities;
  • Strengthen systems and capacity to respond to known and unknown threats, including through community-led simulation exercises and strategic workforce investments;
  • Intervene on the social determinants of health to address racial disparities, promote equity, and improve access to essential care and services in most-affected communities;
  • Strengthen prediction of public health emergencies through analysis and monitoring;
  • Develop and scale tailored health innovations and technologies;
  • Enhance community-led data collection, predictive modeling, and enhancements to collection and sharing of data; and
  • Minimize response times by equipping community organizations and the public with information and resources to take swift action.

The city hopes that the institute will play a critical role in terms of public health infrastructure and stated that Columbia’s selection was in part due to its comprehensive approach that will prepare NYC for future pandemics by providing its residents with access to health solutions, information for decision-making, and the capacity to prepare and respond.


Looking back, the second quarter of 2021 was particularly noteworthy in that 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,’ under Pat Sapinsley, managing director of clean-tech initiatives at the Urban Future Lab / ACRE at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

Carbontech encompasses diverse subsectors such as fuels, cement production, industrial gases, chemicals, polymers and new materials and in addition to combatting global warming by actively removing carbon from the atmosphere, represents what some analysts predict could lead to a trillion dollar market opportunity.

Last quarter, various efforts by NYU related to the  circular economy, which involves designing out waste and pollution right at the start of a project and regenerating natural systems, were recognized by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

In the third quarter of 2021, an NYU C2V year one cohort company CarbonFree, entered into a partnership with an NYU Carbontech Leadership Council member, Fluor to accelerate the deployment of CarbonFree’s CO2 mineralization solution, showing the importance of NYU’s program in fostering such valuable collaborations that can help move the industry forward.

According to the company, CarbonFree has developed what it calls its SkyCycle technology over a period of 15 years that captures carbon emitted by industrial plants and mineralizes them, thereby creating low carbon materials such as high purity precipitated calcium carbonate (PCC) and synthetic limestone that it says are safe and valuable. By capturing the carbon emissions, it is also capable of improving the environment.

As an engineering construction company, Fluor’s role will be to assist in the manufacture of CarbonFree’s technology, so that it can be installed in industrial plants. The two companies are aiming for the SkyCycle technology to be used on a global scale.

The NYU C2V program is currently under the leadership of Frederic Clerc, who serves as its Director.


In terms of NYU’s other 3rd quarter activities, of note is a healthcare research initiative that seeks to improve outcomes for patients by bridging the connection between healthcare workers, big data and advanced technologies.

According to NYU Tandon, the initiative is led by NYU Tandon Professor Oded Nov, utilizes a National Science Foundation grant in the amount of $2.5 million, and draws upon NYU’s schools of engineering, medicine and business for its researchers.

Noting the above ‘misalignment,’ the focus will be on the following three areas:

  • Co-developing tools and generalizing design principles with users that lower the barriers to technology integration for healthcare workers
  • Empowering individuals within healthcare systems who have diverse roles to adopt and use the tools and improve their skills
  • Enabling patient-centered healthcare that promotes autonomy and strengthens clinician-patient concordance

Also of note is that NYU Tandon’s MakerSpace lab, a 10,000 square-feet facility that has rapid prototyping and advanced machining and testing capabilities celebrated its 5th year of existence.

Example of the labs achievements include the design and manufacturing of open-source face shields and 3D printing for ventilator parts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

MakerSpace is under Dean Jelena Kovačević of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering.

Finally, in the 3rd quarter of 2021 Crunchbase News looked at the schools that graduated the highest number of female founders of startups and for the period covering the funding of such startups between August 11, 2019 and August 11, 2020, NYU ranked 8th, with 25 founders and NYU Stern ranked 7th with 6 founders among business schools. 

Crunchbase news notes that it used its database for this information, which includes female founders that did not list university affiliation. The criteria used did not include a minimum funding amount.

The “New York Recovery Challenge 2021” Start-up Competition Launched by Cornell Tech & Partners

On September 29, 2021, the Jacobs Urban Tech Hub at Cornell Tech, along with Google for Startups and Tech:NYC announced a $150k Start-up competition called the “NYC Recovery Challenge 2021,” for the purpose of furthering Cornell Tech’s mission of building NYC-based tech talent. More specifically, it seeks to “identify teams, founders and companies who are … committed to supporting job creation, placement and retention throughout the five boroughs,” according to a site dedicated to the competition.

The Jacobs Urban Tech Hub is led by Founding Director Michael Samuelian, who provided guidance for the competition that participants should seek to “make their block, borough, and city better through tech.”

This is aligned with the city’s tech sector’s contributions in combatting the COVID-19 pandemic with Tech:NYC Executive Director Julie Samuels noting that such activities included manufacturing ventilators and PPE and building vaccine and testing websites.

More than 170 New York-based startups applied with ten selected to be NYC Recovery Challenge Fellows.

The focus of the selected companies includes:

  • Financial services for gig economy workers
  • A job readiness platform for individuals with autism & the disability population
  • Digital community banking for Black-owned small businesses
  • An end-to-end collaboration tool for creative teams; and
  • An AI-powered online marketplace connecting people to local brick & mortar bodegas

The participants come from diverse backgrounds and four of NYC’s five boroughs.

Categories: Big Tech in NYC, Comparative Advantage, Digital Economy, Jobs & Industries, Next Generation Impact, Our Communities, Startup Ecosystem, Uncategorized, Universities Incubators & Pipeline

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