Budding Engineering Entrepreneurs Gain Strides in Start-Up Program

Six teams of Columbia Engineering students, researchers, and a professor are among the final 13 projects approved for an entrepreneurship program launched last fall by Columbia Business School. Projects range from a new treatment for brain trauma to an innovative system to aggregate and customize digital news feeds.

This image above was produced from text alone by WordsEye.

Among the winning projects is WordsEye, a system that creates 3D scenes from simple textual scene descriptions in English, says team member Bob Coyne, a PhD candidate in computer science. His adviser is Professor Julia Hirschberg.

“Our goal for the program is simple – to launch a start-up,” he says. “The program has really focused our energies, and the guidance and support we’ve received so far from the advisers has been incredible.”

The inaugural Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Columbia program (IE@Columbia) is led by the Business School’s Eugene Lang Entrepreneurship Center. The program will be taught by faculty members from the Business School, the Law School, and Columbia Engineering. By the end of the semester, teams will have developed business proposals and will pitch their projects to angel investors and venture capitalists.

The program attracted applications from 102 groups in November, and only 26 were invited to present their projects in January. From that final pool, 13 were selected to participate in IE@Columbia.

The six teams from Columbia Engineering include:

  • WordsEye: use natural language to create 3D pictures. Group members: graduate students Bob Coyne (Computer Science), Daniel Bauer (Computer Science), Neelam Brar (Graduate School of Business), and Gary Zamchick of the Zamchick Group.
  • The Civic Network: a system to aggregate and customize digital news feeds. Group members: graduate student Matthew Chen (Industrial Engineering and Operations Research) and undergraduate students Michael Sher (General Studies), Enrique Cruz (Computer Science), and Ryder Moody (Computer Science).
  • Demand Response-AD: remote monitoring and energy consumption of air conditioning units. Group members: Thomas Lueke (Business), graduate students Berk Birand (Electrical Engineering) and Rob van Haaren (Earth and Environmental Engineering).
  • Cessair Therapeutics: new treatment for traumatic brain injury. Group members: post-doctoral research scientist John D. Finan (Biomedical Engineering), graduate students Chris Hue (Biomedical Engineering) and Gwen Effgen (Biomedical Engineering).
  • Osseca: harvesting new technology for repairing articular cartilage. Group members: Jason Greco (Computer Science), graduate students Andrea Tan (Biomedical Engineering) and Tyler Poore (Chemistry), James Cook, professor of orthopaedic surgery at the University of Missouri, and Columbia Engineering Professor Clark Hung (Biomedical Engineering).
  • Photonic Integrated Circuit for Internet: new optical transport systems to reduce Internet energy consumption. Group members: graduate students Michael S. Wang (Electrical Engineering), Atiyah Ahsan (Electrical Engineering), Howard Wang (Electrical Engineering), Robert Groberg (Business), and Kamiu Lee (Business).

The 13 teams will attend several sessions this semester designed to help them develop their start-ups. Session topics include the entrepreneurial process, the market, the customer, financial forecasting, product design, selling, legal issues, intellectual property, entrepreneurial finance, negotiations, operations, leadership, and how to pitch to investors.

by Jeff Ballinger

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