Entrepreneurial Institute

A Scientific Solution to Organizing World Images

Sophie Lebrecht spoke to the NYU community at the Leslie eLab on March 2nd to share her entrepreneurial journey at Neon Labs while pursuing two PhDs at Brown University.

NSF I-Corps: While pursuing her PhDs, Sophie Lebrecht participated in the NSF I-Corps program, which provides teams with an immersive experience through the process of “customer discovery.” Over the course of the program, participants learn what it takes to successfully transfer their knowledge and research into products and companies. Sophie found her product was most useful in creating thumbnail images that increased the click-through rate for advertisements on the web. Along the way, participants develop skills and build connections with teammates, mentors, and investors. Through a contact she met during I-Corps, Sophie had the chance to discuss her product with a high-level representative from Google’s YouTube team. In addition to developing skills and growing their professional network, I-Corps participants have a 64% increased chance of receiving SBIR grants. Sophie received a grant and started Neon Labs to apply what she had learned during I-Corps. Because of Sophie’s success in the program, she wanted to share some tips and tricks with future participants and entrepreneurs.

Customer Discovery: One tip Sophie learned during I-Corps is that being a student while conducting “customer discovery” is to your advantage because it seems less threatening to companies. She advises students to always state that you are a student and looking to do research when seeking to set up a meeting. Companies are more inclined to share because it is of interest to them to learn about your research as well as sharing details about their strategic goals or problems if they feel your research can help. Also, focus on connecting with companies willing to buy a solution as opposed to those who will replicate it.

Differentiating in the Market: Sophie emphasized that communication outside of the academia world is very different from the startup world. Academics often struggle to adapt from the world of academia, where it was the norm to validate your research multiple times over and speak of this process in layers, to the startup culture of being concise and direct with the product’s capacity to solve a pain point. I-Corps helps academics learn the diction of the startup world and practice pitching their ideas. Sophie suggests to figure out how to convey that you’re different and tell your story in as few words as possible.

NYU Tech Transfer Office of Industrial Liaison: Current faculty and graduate students at NYU should take advantage of all the resources of the NYU Office of Industrial Liaison. Its mission is to promote the commercial development of NYU technologies from its Medical Center, Washington Square campus, and Poly Engineering campus into products to benefit the public, while providing resources to the University to support its research, education, and patient care missions. The Office also facilitates research collaborations between NYU researchers and industry on projects of mutual interest.

Building a Team: Sophie cautions future entrepreneurs of the risk when hiring employees and giving them big titles. Ideally, the individual should grow into that role, but what happens if they don’t? You either have to demote them or fire them. It’s best to bring on employees with a more general title, observe the projects they take on and the work they produce, and then craft a title according to their talents and successes.

Upcoming Events:

  • April 8th: Botany, Biodiversity & Bitters feat. Rachel Meyer, Co-founder of Shoots & Roots Bitters, RSVP here
  • April 15th: Startup Bootcamp for NYU Scientists & Engineers, NYU School of Engineering-Brooklyn Campus, RSVP here
  • 5 Day Lean Launchpad Info Session / Team Hunt, RSVP here (Multiple Sessions)
  • NSF I-Corps Info Sessions 12pm-1:30pm
    • May 14th, Leslie eLab, RSVP here
    • May 21st, NYU School of Engineering (Brooklyn), RSVP here
    • June 11th, NYU Langone Medical Center, Greenberg Hall, RSVP here