The basement level of 6 MetroTech buzzed with energy on Wednesday, January 30, as students, faculty members and administrators from NYU-Poly and across NYU, gathered with representatives from innovative companies to inaugurate the Greenhouse, a new student-run area dedicated to ideation and collaboration. Upon signing in, each attendee was given a nametag and asked to choose a color-coded sticker to indicate whether he or she was a designer, business facilitator, engineer, or developer – one sticker simply proclaimed, “I have an idea”—and many nametags ended up festooned with multiple colors.
President Jerry Hultin kicked off the event, taking the opportunity to reminisce about formulating Poly’s i2e (invention, innovation and entrepreneurship) rubric, continuing a proud tradition that spans Poly’s long and illustrious history. “That idea was scribbled down on a napkin during a brainstorming session years ago, and we embarked on a fantastic journey,” he said. “And it’s not over yet. The Greenhouse is going to be special place where students can collaborate and innovate—a space in which the fires are going to keep burning and the ideas are going to keep pouring out.”
Collaboration and innovation began as soon as participants entered the room – large posters of potential Greenhouse logos, designed by the creative manager of NYU-Poly’s Department of Web and Media Services, Sheldon Smith, greeted them as they were invited to submit their own ideas for logo designs. Dina Gold, a student at NYU’s Gallatin School of Individualized Study, drew a sinuous vine wrapped around a question mark, while Jean-Claude Cantave, who is working towards a graduate degree in molecular biology at NYU, envisioned a hybrid of a stylized leaf and light bulb.
Ashwin Gopi, one of the students actively engaged in the development of the Greenhouse, asserted, “Everyone owns the space. I couldn’t even tell you who came up with the name. That’s really a symbol of what we want the Greenhouse to be: a place of real collaboration, where I can start something and you can finish it, and vice-versa.” The OpenIDEO student chapter at NYU-Poly, which worked closely with Assistant Professor Anne-Laure Fayard, also had a big hand in bringing the new space to life. Ashwin Gopi, Lei Niu, Daniella Patrick, Sana Altaf, Nilufer Polat first conceived of the Greenhouse space as part of the My Vibrant Campus Challenge last spring. The space gets its name from the vision these students had to create a place where all students can gather to cultivate seedlings of ideas and help them grow.
Assistant Professor Fayard gave everyone their first challenge and the audience broke up into teams to brainstorm about possible uses for the Greenhouse and then used the art supplies and Legos provided to create physical models of their ideas. Abhishek Gupta, a graduate student of electrical and computer engineering, participated in building a diorama representing the collaboration between NYU and Poly out of clay. Towering over the model was a human figure. “That represents our professors and mentors,” Gupta explained. “We could never reach our goals without them.”
The importance of mentors was highlighted again that evening when Acting President and Provost K.R. Sreenivasan announced Poly’s new Faculty Engineers in Residence program. The eight inaugural faculty participants, including Assistant Professor Fayard, chosen for their dedication to the principles of i2e, will work closely with the students at the NYU-Poly incubators and share their own entrepreneurial experience. Mike Knox, a newly appointed faculty engineer in residence and a past recipient of the Distinguished Teacher Award, was enthusiastic. “I can’t wait,” he enthused. “I already have one senior design student, Brian Lee, doing an internship at TaxiTreats, one of the start-ups that emerged from an EIA event and incubated at the NYU-Poly DUMBO Incubator. There is no better way to find out what it’s like to be an engineer than to immerse yourself in a real-life company facing real-life design challenges.”
The evening was capped off with yet another announcement, by Steve Kuyan, Assistant Director of the Incubator Initiatives, and Derrick Hsiou, President of the student chapter of Entrepreneurship and Innovation Association (EIA): SparkStart, the first stage of Poly’s annual InnoVention competition, begins on February 4, and teams have until February 8 to register. Teams will then have three weeks to develop and refine their commercially viable ideas to get prototype funding. Students were then encouraged to start finding teammates among the many gathered for the Greenhouse opening.
The Greenhouse was packed shoulder-to-shoulder on January 30, and it looks like it will continue to be bustling, with InnoVention teams, budding entrepreneurs, and students from every corner of NYU making the space their own. "As for the future, I think the space will become what students will make of it,” Fayard says. “Space is not only physical; it is social – it has to be inhabited to become a place where students will come to work together and share, explore and prototype ideas."
The Greenhouse will be curated by two Greenhouse “Guardians”, Gilbert Aning and Sonal Thukral, graduate students who will keep the calendar, help create programming, ensure supplies are available, and that the space is a place where creativity can flourish. Drop by the space any time, or contact either of the Guardians at firstname.lastname@example.org.