In recent years, it seems what were once thought to be stable institutions and norms are becoming increasingly more volatile in the face of rapid technological progress. People across broad economic, social, and political spectrums are meeting these changes with skepticism at best, and disdain at worst.
The good news is there is also a rising collective commitment to counter this worldwide angst using tech to conquer global challenges concerning human rights, ethical business practice, globalization, or climate change. NYU, one of the largest and most diverse private universities in the world, has a broad community compelled to take action, hoping to leverage the prolific student and faculty body to solve some of the most significant problems our society and planet are facing today.
As a catalyst that thrives on and nurtures innovation, the Entrepreneurial Institute has strong faith in the potential for private ventures as a vehicle for new, innovative solutions. Over the past few months, a broad cross-section of our University community has met to explore the work being done at the intersection of innovation, global challenges, and entrepreneurship, where ideas and research surrounding these issues are beginning to realize their commercial potential. Our goal is to highlight, inspire and encourage the creation of more mission-driven ventures, or commercial ventures that tackle meaningful, marketable challenges across diverse sectors, with the ability to scale positive societal impact in their business model.
There are so many world changing initiatives happening at NYU, we’re excited to help bring even more of them to market, making the world a better place.
“There are so many world changing initiatives happening at NYU, we’re excited to help bring even more of them to market, making the world a better place” said Andy Moss, Entrepreneur-in-Residence and Director of the Blackstone LaunchPad at NYU. He highlighted, “Working together [NYU schools/institutes/programs], the whole can be greater than the sum of our collective parts.”
Over the summer, we are launching a new blog series covering various issues where NYU is taking the lead, and where our experts see even more room for growth. Throughout the summer, we will release in-depth features on a new pressing topic each week. Following are some of the challenges where we’re already seeing the fruits of hard work, imagination, and ingenuity.
Climate Change - Jiro Otsuka, a program manager at ACRE, a business incubator housed at the Tandon School of Engineering’s Urban Future Lab, believes in broad scale, interdisciplinary solutions to help meet climate goals.
“It’s not just the improvement of one system that’s going to change everything,” says Otsuka. “We need the players that will bring to market new energy technologies, but we also need the players that will help us optimize our existing systems.”
Otsuka believes promising areas for improvement include those that optimize the electric grid and improve access to renewables. The current aging grid system, he explains, is poorly visible, meaning there is poor data collection methods that inform the grid’s efficiency. Additionally, he is looking towards technology that improves the integration of renewable energies into scalable systems, such as those for urban environments.
EnerKnol, for example, launched by NYU alumna Angelique Mercurio, offers data and research to businesses whose investments are impacted by changes in U.S. energy policy. Otsuka explains that in addition to improving visibility of existing systems, “increasing the transparency of developments in the energy sector is also vital to making informed business decisions in a world of increasing uncertainty over climate and the regulatory environment.”
Urban Life - NYU’s Center for Urban Studies and Progress (CUSP) has been focused on making cities more efficient and thus more livable, gathering data on urban light use, causes for traffic accidents, and noise pollution rates. These projects are aiming to make data gathering processes more economically efficient and unobtrusive, enabling the city to collect information about its constituents to help them, without invading their privacy.
Mike Holland, the Director of CUSP, asks, “Because we can’t sensor the world, how can we take the data we have and make use of it?”
Holland believes that one of the most pressing urban issues with the most potential for entrepreneurial intervention is noise pollution. Given that excess noise has been shown to reduce quality of life for residents, especially young, developing students, he hopes to see companies that create tools for communities that face the most noise pollution to track and report it.
Human Rights - NYU has an upfront commitment to human rights as a form of practice, and is a leader in launching projects espousing the universality and protections of those rights. Sukti Dhital, the Deputy Director of the NYU Law School’s Bernstein Institute for Human Rights, explains that one of the largest challenges in this work is that those who are denied basic rights are unaware of the very laws that protect them.
“I see opportunities for entrepreneurship to engage communities themselves in addressing their justice problems,” by using tools that enable them “to better understand the law and how to document it.”
For example, projects that foster increased legal literacy at the community level are key, she explains, such as programs that help people easily learn about, identify, record, and track instances of legal infractions. Dhital herself launched Nazdeek, a non-profit in India, that uses legal empowerment methods to increase the legal literacy of indigenous tea workers, and has utilized a mobile app that assists in tracking and mapping rights violations.
Technology Ethics - With a rise in artificial intelligence and virtual reality solutions, Luke DuBois, data visualization artist and a co-director of the Technology, Culture and Society Program at NYU Tandon, questions the potential societal impact of current tech development. He is concerned about a particular demographic skew creating nearly all of the most popular technology used ubiquitously today. DuBois articulately analogized,
“The blind spots of machines are reflections of the blind spots of their creators.”
He argues that socially-minded and fairer tech ought to be created with the mindset of its users as stakeholders in the companies, not merely consumers. He explains that the only way companies can do this is if they actually speak to the customers whose lives they are hoping to improve, such as those with disabilities or marginalized communities, in addition to important research and instead of relying on their own experiences.
In addition to these issues, our series will also cover entrepreneurship’s role in diverse issues like Political Engagement, Health and Medicine, and Media Ethics.
Next week, the first part of our series will be released, featuring entrepreneurship’s role in driving clean energy and tech in the effort to mitigate climate change.