How an NYU incubator supports climatetech and climate justice
As the most successful business incubator in New York State, the Urban Future Lab (UFL) is making a difference by helping climatetech solutions companies to achieve scale. It began back in 2009 when the state agency New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) funded this dedicated climatetech incubator at NYU Polytechnic (now the NYU Tandon School of Engineering) in order to kickstart a new, green economy for both New York state and New York City. Since then, the UFL has evolved into a premier center of climatetech entrepreneurship that is also working to draw attention to climate justice.
The Urban Future Lab Competition awards three annual prizes, two for cleantech solutions and—new in 2021—a community climate justice prize sponsored by MUFG that supports clean solutions for issues identified by low-income communities.
To learn more about the UFL, we spoke with its managing director of Clean Tech Initiatives, Pat Sapinsley. Pat explains the UFL and the technologies she sees addressing climate change down the road.
Q: What is climate justice? How do you address it in your programming?
Pat: We have seen the most negative effects of climate change fall disproportionately on lower income communities. Climate justice is the equitable redistribution of climate change benefits and responsibilities.
If we want climate impacts to be addressed in a more equitable manner, we must extend our reach to low- and moderate-income communities, so we included a community prize through our Urban Future Prize Competition. This year, we will expand our partnership with the 2021 prize winner, South Bronx-based nonprofit Nos Quedamos (the Spanish-to-English translation is We Stay) to help support its efforts to achieve climate justice. It is important to us that we not simply impose one of our solutions companies on them. Rather Nos Quedamos is telling us what they need, such as solar-powered resiliency hubs to power equipment in a blackout or flood, improvements in its community gardens, and support for its youth groups to learn more about job opportunities in the climatetech world.
Q: How do you support the startups in your lab?
Pat: We make individually tailored, targeted introductions through our extensive business network each day, which yield potential commercial partnerships, sources of capital and mentors. The companies have access to attorneys and accountants to guide the startups as they grow. In addition, we provide marketing support, including helping them to build pitch decks and websites. These basics help the startups scale up.
Q: After your entrepreneurs leave your lab, what have been the outcomes?
Pat: We have seen amazing outcomes for our startups. Several like Air Company, CarbonFree, and Zinc8 Energy Solutions have secured funding to now build factories in areas within New York state and elsewhere that need new industries and new jobs. Both of our home-energy use companies—SEALED and Dandelion—have raised millions and are now expanding beyond New York. One of our graduated companies, Smarter Grid Solutions, was acquired by Mitsubishi Electric. Another graduated company, Bloc Power, recently contracted with the City of Ithaca in New York to make every one of their buildings a net zero building. In addition, Opus One Solutions was acquired by GE Digital.
Q: What technologies are you excited about?
Pat: Long-duration energy storage needs to happen to enable renewables. There are many technologies beyond the lithium ion chemical batteries that are so ubiquitous today. We have a company working on non-flammable zinc air storage. Our program with the Electric Power Research Institute (EPRI) and Greentown Labs called the Low Carbon Hydrogen Accelerator shows that clean hydrogen can be thought of as a battery for longer-term energy storage. While it has traditionally been a dirty process to separate hydrogen, there are now electrolytic processes available where you can split the hydrogen from the oxygen in water—using only renewable energy—in order to produce hydrogen. By making use of the excess energy available when wind and solar farms exceed the demand of their customers, we can increase the economics of those installations, while making clean Hydrogen.
I am also excited to see how carbon capture, utilization, and storage (CCUS) can help counteract climate change. The companies in our Carbon to Value (C2V) Initiative are able to pull the carbon out of the atmosphere and utilize it in products like concrete, plastics, and chemicals.
Carbon stays in the atmosphere for hundreds of years—some is absorbed by oceans, trees, and soils. An often used analogy compares our atmosphere to a bathtub, overflowing with water. To stop the overflow, we must both turn off the faucet and drain the water. Similarly, to eliminate the carbon waste that has accumulated in the atmosphere, we must both drain the 150 years of accumulated carbon out of the atmosphere and stop pushing more carbon waste into the atmosphere. Our C2V initiative will help solve that problem.
The New York clean energy, sustainable urban infrastructure, and
carbonization innovation hub
The Urban Future Lab is connecting people, capital, and purpose to advance market-ready solutions to address climate change to support New York City’s climate tech innovation. Programs include: ACRE, a business incubation program for pre-seed to series A startups; Clean Start, an advanced certificate from NYU for people seeking a transition into the climatetech sector; the Carbon to Value Initiative and Low-Carbon Hydrogen Accelerators (both with Greentown Labs) that bring innovative technologies and solutions to industry leaders; and the Innovate UK Global Incubator Programme that supports United Kingdom-based climatetech startups with market entry in the U.S. UFL is part of the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and located in Downtown Brooklyn.
About ESG at MUFG
MUFG is committed to empowering a brighter future. As a global financial leader, we believe that environmental, social and governance (ESG) considerations are essential to achieving sustainable growth. Our corporate mission – and a key part of our identity – is to be a foundation of strength, committed to meeting the needs of our clients, serving society, and fostering a better world. The MUFG Carbon Neutrality Declaration pledges to achieve net zero emissions in our finance portfolio by 2050 and our own operations by 2030. By combining our ESG expertise and heritage of client-centricity, we provide our clients with wide-ranging and complementary products, services, and advice to help them meet their financial goals, while also staying true to their sustainability mandates.
1251 Avenue of the Americas
New York, NY, 10020-1104, United States