At NYU, ideas become reality thanks to the support of resources like the NYU Prototyping Fund. A collaboration between the Department of Technology Management and Innovation at the Tandon School of Engineering, NYU Tandon MakerSpace Design Lab, and National Science Foundation’s New York City Future Manufacturing Collective, the NYU Prototyping Fund awards students up to $500 over one semester to bring an innovative idea to life. Furthermore, students who continue working on prototypes can receive a second round of funding up to $2,000. Additionally, participants benefit from expert mentorship, access to tools and equipment, and educational workshops on design and prototyping. Both undergraduate and graduate students from across NYU’s schools and colleges can apply. However, priority is given to multidisciplinary, multi-program, and multi-school teams as a way to promote creativity and collaboration.
Space to Experiment
Over the years, the NYU Prototyping Fund has supported projects ranging from more sustainable beef jerky, an epilepsy monitoring system, or a weight-sensitive alarm clock rug. For every Prototyping Fund team, the MakerSpace—with its 3-D printers, laser cutters, shop tools, and much more—is invaluable. “Our design could not have been possible without the MakerSpace,” says Devansh Agarwal, a junior Mechanical Engineering major and Mathematics minor at Tandon. Presently, Devansh is part of a team developing a sustainable solenoid engine with the potential to replace gas-powered V-8 engines. “They provided the funding, training, and access to machines that were crucial for our manufacturing process.”
As students create, test, and modify their prototypes, MakerSpace staff and faculty offer guidance as well as direction. Above all, they always emphasize progress over perfection. Prototyping Fund participant Aadi Chidambaram, a first-year student at Tandon studying computer science, appreciates the support. “They remind us that we are only human and that mistakes are a natural part of the process. At the same time, they encourage us to go the extra mile and to try something new,” she says.
Aadi and her three teammates are designing wearable technology that alleviates period pain. Controlled by a mobile app, the technology utilizes heat and compression on the wearer and their pain. As the team refines their prototype, they receive helpful feedback not only from staff and potential users but also their peers in the NYU Prototyping Fund. With a wide range of teams and projects, every individual in the program—from first-year students to PhD students—offers useful insights and perspective.
Building What’s Next
As prototypes progress, staff help students identify resources for taking their designs to the next level, including the Summer Launchpad and other programs at the NYU Entrepreneurial Institute. “This is our goal,” says Victoria Bill, managing director of the MakerSpace. “Support teams through the early stages of the prototyping process, encourage them to iterate and explore in a low-stakes, supportive environment, and help them discover a path forward if they choose to continue.”
The program culminates in a project showcase open to all of NYU as well as the wider entrepreneurial community. Equipped with their prototypes and long-term visions, many teams move on from there to seek additional funding.
Some join events like the NYU Global InnoVention Competition, which awards a $25,000 prize. In 2020 a former NYU Prototyping Fund team won the competition with their reimagined porta potty design that saves on transportation and storage costs. Other students partner with faculty to do more extensive research and testing.
Meanwhile, some launch successful start-ups. We Are the New Farmers, a Brooklyn-based farm, traces its origins to the NYU Prototyping Fund. In many ways the end of the Prototyping Fund is actually a new beginning. For the ambitious and innovative students who complete this program, the opportunities are endless.