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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

NYC colleges partner to promote clean tech

Published: September 13, 2013
Section: News

Columbia University and the Polytechnic Institute of New York University are two of the institutions that will be headlining a program coordinated by the state of New York to improve the clean technology industry in the state. Each of the two schools, in addition to High Tech Rochester Inc. will receive $15 million over the next five years to help encourage and facilitate university researchers to launch commercial start-ups relating to clean technology, including renewable energy and energy distribution. The program will begin operating this month with groups pairing with entrepreneurs next month and the winners announced in March.

Despite New York’s vast population and economic strengths, it has stood behind Boston and California in the clean-technology industry. PowerBridgeNY is the program that will attempt to increase the state’s share in the field. The program will emphasize connecting researchers with those who are knowledgeable and experienced in business as well as educating them in how to get further in the process on their own. The academics who have ideas on how to boost the field often have little experience in getting their idea off the ground and introducing it to potential investors. There is a sharp divide between researchers and investors in the field, as investors are often turned off from the idea of a complicated, capital-intensive business venture that will take some time to turn a profit.

In describing the program, Micah Kotch, director of innovation and entrepreneurship at NYU-Poly stated, “A lot of PowerBridge is going to be helping these people connect with the community, real estate owners and developers, utilities and big corporations to help them understand where they fit in the market,” according to an article in Crain’s New York Business.

Columbia University will open the Downstate Regional Energy Technology Accelerator, which will collaborate with the Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cornell University’s NYC Tech and Stony Brook University. NYU-Poly will partner with the City University of New York and the NYU Center for Urban Science and Progress to focus on challenges specific to the urban environment.

Groups will apply for $150,000 grants which will be funded by the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) based in Albany. Although the environment and clean technology have been recent issues in the news, it is estimated that only a handful of the 900 startups in New York during the last 10 years have been part of the burgeoning industry. Those behind the program hope that similar ones will arise around the state with the implementation of PowerBridgeNY.

Multiple professors have already expressed interest in applications, including Roger Anderson of Columbia University’s Center for Computational Learning Systems. Anderson, already an experienced entrepreneur, has an idea that will potentially provide a wireless exchange of energy between vehicles and buildings. Also, two chemical engineering professors at Columbia have developed a process that uses electricity to convert carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into liquid fuel, which they hope will be propelled by the NYSDERA program.

The University of North Carolina-Greensboro has recently conducted a study, “Proof of Concept Centers in the United States: An Exploratory Look,” which found that universities produced 35 percent more start-ups after such programs and centers were launched. Similar programs have been put into place around the country to promote the establishment of clean-technology businesses, many of which are partnerships between competing schools, as is the case with Columbia and NYU. Massachusetts has already been involved in clean technology. The Massachusetts Institute of Technology School of Engineering has a similar program in place, as do the University of Massachusetts, Boston University and Harvard University.