The State of Cleantech in NYC by AliAkbar Hassonjee

We [in New York] are joining together and committing ourselves to tackling climate change and showing the nation what is possible. Now it is up to world leaders to follow suit,” NY Governor Andrew Cuomo proclaimed on a chilly October morning at Columbia University last year, with former-Vice President Al Gore standing beside him. 

Governor Cuomo, for years, has built a steady suite of statements, policy actions, and state initiatives to make New York a model of clean energy investment and implementation. Last year, he signed the “Under-2-MOU” commitment to keep global temperatures below 2º C, along with Vice President Gore, preceding the global climate talks set to occur in Paris within a few months.  Meanwhile, down in lower-Manhattan and Brooklyn, clean technology companies and research organizations have been gloriously flourishing, with no sign of any market factors breaking them down. 

New York City is the cleantech epicenter of the East Coast- you don’t need to be a well-networked professional to see it. City and state financial initiatives are fueling waves of new companies that are finding nesting grounds at incubators like NYC ACRE, a growing cleantech hub operated by the NYU Tandon School of Engineering, NYSERDA (New York State Energy Research & Development Authority), and NYC EDC (New York City Economic Development Corporation). These companies are challenging the status quo by providing new products, resources, and research in their respective industries: take EnerKnol, an energy policy data company that aggregates real time governmental action and data regarding renewables for the companies and institutions that need it, and that is also building a huge community in the NYC finance world around cleantech investment at the same time. There’s also BlocPower, an emerging startup led by a former Obama For America staffer that bridges the finance and engineering gaps between impact investors seeking financial returns and developing communities in inner cities that need clean energy retrofits, but lack the necessary resources to do so. These are just two disruptors on a long list of organizations and companies that are building a sustainable future for New York--and the world for that matter.

As an NYU student, and now as a 2015-16 Spark Clean Energy Fellow, I’ve gotten a chance to see all of this firsthand. The cleantech world in New York is an endearing one in that if you simply put in the effort and walk up to the doors of an incubator or public cleantech event, you’re immediately introduced to an interconnected world where job opportunities and community roles are aplenty. I was able to connect with students in the NYU sustainability community who provided connections to NYC ACRE, which then allowed me to meet a wealth of cleantech company founders, academic finance and engineering experts, fellow students, and it also gave me a chance to attend impactful and exciting events that brought in people from all aspects of this community. Leveraging these community connections helped me provide networking opportunities as a Spark Fellow, spreading our message to more students, which has had a profound impact on my goals and where I plan on trying to get a job after I graduate.

I’ve only been a student within this community for a few years, but I’ve learned a great deal. And the most important thing that any student seeking to make a difference in the fight against climate change should know, is that the first step is to show up, start talking, and start making connections. The rest will come into place as you begin your journey.