Last year, I went to the first "Technology You Can Touch" mixer—a networking event hosted by NYC Tech Connect to put entrepreneurial engineers and inventors in biotech, materials and other hard sciences in touch with funding opportunities available around New York City. Last week, I went back to catch up on how the community has developed.
There were entrepreneur product demos set up for the duration of the mixer, but the presentation portion of the event actually started out with representatives from various venture funds and accelerator groups giving short pitches about their programs. And while crowd-funding may be all the rage and digital start-ups get a lot of press, there are still millions of investor dollars and accelerator programs available for people innovating with materials, tools, systems, robotics or even retrofitting radiators (to hint at a few). Students, in particular, should make sure to look into what incubators, accelerators or scholarships your institution and communities offer. There are numerous firms out there actively looking for businesses to help get off the ground. We heard from:
- NYC Investment Fund a private fund with a civic mission and one of the founding partners of NYC Tech Connect. They provide a free entrepreneurial advisor with whom you can book advisor time and are running a digital health accelerator.
- NYU Innovation Venture Fund a seed-stage venture capital fund available to NYU students and projects.
- NYC Seed a seed-stage fund for technology entrepreneurs that's currently accepting applications for a 3-month enterprise accelerator starting in January.
- Golden Seeds an investment firm dedicated to serving and encouraging gender diversity in their funding of life science, consumer products or Internet technology companies. They also offer open office hours and encourage entrepreneurs to come by and learn what investors are looking for.
- ARC Angel Fund investors in seed and early-stage businesses in NYC and the surrounding Northeast to Mid-Atlantic region.
- Lux Capital seeking early stage tech companies with big, "contrary," industry-changing ideas in energy, technology and healthcare—from innovative nuclear cleanup methods to Shapeways.
- NYC ACRE (Accelerator for a Clean and Renewable Economy) focuses on clean and renewable energy businesses, as well as trying to grow a supportive community in the field. One of their tenant companies, Enertiv, demo-ed at this event.
- NYU-Poly provides a list of the incubators it started around the city.
- And finally, the NY Hardware Start-up Meetup is getting off the ground with its focus on the community of people who want to build businesses with physical products.
While these are obviously NYC-centric organizations, they're just a small sample of the resources out there supporting designers and entrepreneurs who are making physical objects. Six such entrepreneurs were also on hand demo-ing their projects.
photo via Bitponics.com
Awarded the Open Hardware Summit 2011 scholarship and with a successfully funded Kickstarter, Bitponics works with your hydroponic system by providing a simple plug-and-play device for sensors that assess the state of your garden and programmable power outlets. But Bitponics' real strength lies in the online component which combining your sensor data with the greater Bitponics Community data to provide recommendations based on your specific conditions. Bitponics is in production (and it looks like we're finally going to get to crowdsource plants).
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Insulin drugs are critical in keeping people alive, but unfortunately are often created through artificial processes that can lead to pancreatic cancer. Professor S. Davis uses specific techniques to develop safe insulin drugs and is currently looking for funding for the equipment she needs for her methods. (Neocell didn't have website as of press time, but you can reach them at via e-mail.)
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Aiming to provide building or business owners transparency about their energy consumption, Enertiv develops energy monitoring hardware and software to analyze and track that data via the Web. The cleantech company provides building managers tools to monitor energy consumption which makes it easier to spot potential areas for energy savings, and to identify and react to usage spikes right away instead of having to wait through billing cycles for any notification of change. Focused on the commercial sector, Enertiv has recently raised capital and is hiring.
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A startup from Columbia University that won the 2012 MIT Clean Energy Prize, Radiator Labs provides a retrofit enclosure for (surprise!) radiators that increases the efficiency of steam heating systems. The enclosures effectively prevent overheating, which can waste up to 30% of the energy, and are wirelessly networked to provide remote control of thermostats and the boiler to equalize temperatures in the building. Radiator Labs is currently planning pilot programs to run in buildings in NYC.
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With a robotic AI that can track and automatically center its view on a surgeon's scalpel, the IntelliVi endoscopic camera system enables laparoscopic surgery to go from three points of insertion to just one. Its IntelliTracker 3D camera's position and focus can also be voice controlled and is designed for single-use disposability, which combined with fewer incisions must significantly help reduce chance of infection. IntelliVi is raising capital to complete product design and fabrication.
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Approaching clean technology from another direction, Framergy develops materials that work on the nanoscale to trap and store specific molecules. Their Metal Organic Frameworks (MOF) have uses ranging from scrubbing carbon dioxide out of scuba gear or chimneys to storing hydrogen for vehicle power. Framergy is developing their line and happy to talk about possible applications.
After a year, I was struck by how "Technology You Can Touch" not only helps promote funding for innovations in the physical and hard sciences, but also illuminates the trends that both entreuprenurs and investors are interested in. More and more in new technology fields, people are recognizing that its not only important to create something new, but that new methods and products that address and fix the problems caused by our current technologies are highly sought after by schools, government groups, investors and communities. There is value in creating something new and innovative, and there is also value in making something better. Either way, there are people out there willing to pay you to do it.