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A conversation with EPIC prize winner, Urban Future Lab: 

OTT: Congratulations on receiving $50,000 as part of OTT’s EPIC prize! First, please tell us a little more about your company/who you are.

Urban Future Lab: The not-for-profit Urban Future Lab at NYU’s Tandon School of Engineering is New York State’s longest running incubator for climate entrepreneurs. UFL exists to support cleantech startups and is home to several incubator, accelerator, and educational programs: the ACRE Incubator, the Carbon to Value Initiative, the UK’s Global Incubator Programme, the Urban Future Prize Competition, and H2 Refuel. We also lead CleanStart, an advanced diploma program from NYU for people seeking a transition into the cleantech sector. Since 2009, our 64 ACRE companies alone have raised $882m and nearly 90% are still up and running.

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OTT: Will you give us a brief description of your winning program plan?

UFL: Our multiyear, collaborative regional engagement plan focused on supporting startups in the Northeastern Region with new programs. Our partnerships with Greentown Labs in Massachusetts and Fraunhofer USA, include the Carbon to Value Initiative, a multiyear effort with support from NYSERDA, as well as the second year of a joint clean hydrogen program, which is in the planning stage. In addition, we have partnered with the government of the UK to increase international engagement in the region by hosting the first cohort of the Global Incubator Programme. The UK plans to launch other cohorts in Canada and Singapore based on the UFL program model. We are also in the planning stages with a major wind developer for a regional Offshore Wind accelerator, whose goals would be to help build a Northeast offshore wind industry. And finally, our efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion in cleantech have grown to include a new track in our annual  Urban Future Prize Competition for a New York State-based community organization to develop a plan with the UFL to address climate justice.

OTT: How has this program impacted your region/local community?

UFL: We just launched our inaugural cohort of Carbon to Value startups, companies sourced from every continent who will work with our incubator in NYC as well as our partner’s incubator in Boston. Additionally, this cohort and our Carbontech Leadership Council - an invitation-only group of executive leaders across diverse industry sectors and NGOs driving the future of carbontech - will now have the opportunity to work in the Northeast. 

Our Global Incubator Programme, launched in October 2020, has introduced our regional ecosystem to new technologies from the UK, including solar thermal panels, a retractable EV charging station that addresses urban street clutter and accessibility concerns, and an AI fault location solution for underground electricity smart grids.

In addition, since the EPIC award was received, our efforts to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion have led to a new track in our annual Urban Future Prize Competition, The Future Impact Prize. This prize will be awarded to a community organization, who can develop a plan with us to address climate justice in a local community. The winner will be announced at our annual Urban Future Prize Competition Summit on September 13, 2021. There will also be a panel discussion featuring three Climate Justice Advisors and the Future Impact Prize winner, who will outline their winning proposal.

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OTT: What does it mean to be an accelerator/incubator during the coronavirus pandemic? What is one lesson learned from this virtual experience?

UFL: The key characteristic of an accelerator/incubator during the pandemic is adaptability. Just as our startups must adapt to changing market conditions, we too have had to adapt to new ways of connecting with ecosystem partners, supporting our startups, and moving the needle on climate change solutions. To do this, we’ve leaned heavily on virtual communication, creating regular spaces for our founders to connect virtually with one another and with us, and by hosting virtual events, such as our panel on decarbonizing buildings co-hosted with Daikin.

OTT: How can we stay up to date on the latest news or events with your company?

UFL: To stay up to date with the latest from UFL, subscribe to our UFL newsletter here and our Carbon to Value newsletter here. Be sure to also follow us on Twitter and LinkedIn. We also invite you to attend our July 1 showcase for our first Global Incubator Programme cohort and our September 13 Urban Future Prize Competition Summit.

Thank you Urban Future Lab! Congratulations again! 

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