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Columbia Spectator Staff

The answer to the city's suffering economy might be tucked somewhere in the basement of Pupin Hall, according to Manhattan Borough President Scott Stringer. Stringer unveiled a new program, "Innovation NYC," in his recent State of the Borough address, that aims to help Manhattan's universities foster start-up businesses, though the details of the program won't be released for another two weeks. Stringer announced that he will chair a Presidents Council for Manhattan's Innovation Economy, made up of the presidents of Manhattan universities, to help determine how to make connections between entrepreneurs and the schools. "If we do this right, soon enough Silicon Valley will be learning from us, about how to turn scientific breakthroughs into jobs," Stringer said in his speech. The program is based on a September 2009 report by the Center for an Urban Future that commented on the relationship between New York institutions and the city's economy. The report specifically analyzed Columbia's economic role. A key issue, according to the report, is that while New York universities spend plenty of money on research, and often produce exciting new technologies, the local economy does not always reap the benefits. For example, the CUF report notes that between 1983 and 2008, 84 start-up companies were founded as a result of Columbia innovations, but 60 are still in business, and only seven of them still maintain "significant operations" in New York City today. The report says, "Columbia University is far and away the city's leader in everything from overall scientific research expenditures to start-ups created." But, the report criticizes, asking, "Why, then, did Columbia retain its bad reputation for hard bargaining with its scientists and focusing narrowly on blockbuster deals even after it had begun to change its ways around 2005?" The report argues on the whole, that New York universities have not effectively encouraged entrepreneurship, local economic development and economic diversification. Orin Herskowitz, vice president of intellectual property and technology transfer at Columbia Technology Ventures, said that he didn't find the 2009 report to be accusatory and that his office's goals were in line with the mission of the upcoming Innovation NYC program. "We get 300-plus inventions from faculty labs and either find start up companies or sell them to industries," he said. "About 10-13 start up companies are launched out of Columbia every year." Herskowitz is mentioned several times in the report, which quotes him defending Columbia, arguing that the University's rate of start-up formation compares more favorably than other universities across the nation. In an interview this month, he spoke about the difficulties of getting a business off the ground in the city, noting that, "Some find it cost-prohibitive to be in the five boroughs of New York." Herskowitz noted that the University currently operates the Columbia-Harlem Small Business Development Center and the CTV hosts fairs to showcase promising inventions, and lectures by successful entrepreneurs who have experienced the start-up culture of New York first hand. Charles Ardai, founder of internet service company Juno, and current chairman of Schrodinger Inc.—a company that got its start through Columbia—said that he believes that there is something special about New York that can help attract businesses. These issues of innovation in the city are important, because, despite expensive real estate and other challenges, he said, "New York has an enormous amount of energy and an enormous amount of creativity." He added, "No matter what kind of people you need for your company you can find them in New York." Jack McGourty, associate dean at SEAS, and executive director of the Center for Technology, Innovation, and Community Engagement, said that his center tries to connect students with community projects. But, he said, the relationship between universities and entrepreneurs could be improved. "You can always do more. There's a lot of things that New York universities are doing to support start-ups and ventures, but we can always do more," he said.

SEAS Scott Stringer