Startup U: NYC’s Newest Higher Education Venture

by / ⠀Startup Advice / May 11, 2012

Maybe second place isn’t the first loser after all. On April 23rd, New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg launched the Center for Urban Science and Progress (CUSP) in Downtown Brooklyn, a collaboration between NYU, Canegie Mellon, CUNY, the University of Toronto, the University of Warwick and the Indian Institute of Technology in Bombay. The announcement marked the latest round in the NYC Applied Sciences competition won by Cornell last December with its Roosevelt Island tech campus. Alongside Bloomberg were NYC’s favorite celebrity investor Fred Wilson and a raft of politicians who joined together to celebrate the “second winner.”

And to the New York startup scene go the spoils. The proposed campus will enroll 430 masters candidates and 100 PhD candidates and include a 40,000 sq. ft. incubator for CUSP spinoffs. The center plans to focus on the urban environment, setting “the research agenda on the science of cities and educating the next generation of engineers on how to apply that research.” Located at 370 Jay Street, CUSP should be able to build on NYU’s other recent foray into the engineering space, the neighboring Polytechnic University (now NYU-Poly).  Together, CUSP, NYU-Poly and the new Cornell campus represent the bet that the attraction and creation of young talent will help manufacture a startup economy.

The emphasis on higher education looks like a smart wager. New York has a competitive advantage in universities, playing host to nearly ten major research institutions around the city and over twenty statewide. A couple of years before proposing the Roosevelt Island campus, Cornell President David Skorton chaired a blue-ribbon task force that highlighted New York’s higher education prowess. Its report contrasted New York State’s #2 ranking (after California) in federal research funding with its lackluster performance in university-incubated startups (full disclosure, your narrator served as Executive Director for the task force). The new CUSP will help bridge that gap.

Another high-profile report filed around the same time by the Center for an Urban Future minced no words in calling out New York’s “glaring weakness when it comes to engineering—a major problem since engineers are instrumental to tech entrepreneurship.” But with ever more venture capital funding flowing into NYC, and infrastructure investments like CUSP, the Cornell campus and a variety of city-sponsored incubators, NYC is meeting both challenges head on.

Speaking at the announcement, NYC Transit President Tom Prendergast revealed that CUSP’s Jay Street location sits atop a hidden subway platform where the Money Train used to pull in to make deposits to the MTA Metro-Tech headquarters above. The train stopped running years ago, but if all goes according to plan, CUSP and New York’s other startup-oriented higher education investments will keep NYC’s entrepreneurs on track for a big payday.

Postscript: At the announcement, City Council member Stephen Levin sought to characterize the surrounding area as the “Brooklyn Tech Triangle,” employing a none-too-veiled reference to the North Carolina Research Triangle (Duke, North Carolina at Chapel Hill and NC State). Aren’t we already sick of “Silicon Alley?” It seems to me that a name that sounds like the second rate version of somewhere else does not befit the city at the center of the world. I’m hearing “The Big Apple Seed” and “New Tech City” as contenders for a NYC startup handle.

What do you think? Use the comment section below to suggest your own.

Author: Daniel Doktori – @ddoktori

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