The institutions in NYC that are educating the entrepreneurs of tomorrow

7 min read
15 Jan 2019

uccessful entrepreneurship arguably takes much more than an academic education, but that hasn’t stopped these five schools in New York City from aiming to cultivate the next generation of business leaders.

Photo: Unplash/Jordan Encarnacao

Spurred on by rapid changes in technology, our world is constantly changing, and with that, traditional modes of learning. In the Big Apple, there’s no shortage of institutions which are dedicated to inspiring students to not only acquire knowledge, but to apply it in real life.

As the following NYC-based schools show, all of which are featured in our brand new Startup Guide New York book, the classroom alone isn’t a substitute for real life experience. That’s why these institutions have refined their focus to incorporate a practical – rather than just an academic – approach to the study of entrepreneurship.

From courses in engineering and design to accelerator programs and networking platforms, schools in the largest city in the US are training their students for the real world by giving them the opportunities to create, produce and pitch prototypes of their ideas.

But beyond this, NYC’s educators are dedicated to instilling positive entrepreneurial values of creativity, collaboration and problem solving that will enable their students to meet the demands of the modern world of business. It’s not enough to be a master of a specific skill set: students must be collaborators, and ultimately, innovators.

Photo: Columbia University

Columbia University: No one-size-fits-all approach

Private Ivy League research institution Columbia University has seventeen schools and institutions in NYC alone. It is home to pupils that not only have a history of academic excellence, but an ability to demonstrate risk-taking, innovation and creativity: skills which are arguably needed to be a successful entrepreneur.

Columbia only admits the best and brightest students across the States and from around the world. Having some experience in the startup world can show you’re not afraid of pursuing a non-traditional path. Over 5,000 students and alumni are engaged in the school’s entrepreneurship programs or pedagogy.

In striving to create the next generation of visionaries, it tailors its courses to help its students pioneer discoveries but also equally emphasizes practical skills and academic knowledge. Students are invited to participate in the Columbia Venture Competition, innovate at the Columbia Design Studio, or investigate blockchain at the Columbia Blockchain Studio.

Columbia doesn’t only nurture its current students, it acts as an incubator of talent for alumni too. The university provides opportunities to join the Columbia Venture Community, a separate non-profit organization that incorporates recent graduates into helpful networks, or to apply to work at Columbia Startup Lab, a 5,100-square-foot coworking space in SoHo.

Chris McGarry, senior director for entrepreneurship in the University Office of Alumni and Development, told Startup Guide that by focusing on the “practical and commercial application of innovation, students across Columbia are translating theory and applying it to the real world to make their vision a reality.”

Photo: Ryan Song / Startup Guide

Cornell Tech: Tech founders for the digital age

For Cornell Tech, the aim is to create pioneering leaders for the digital age through research, technology commercialization and graduate-level education. It looks specifically for students interested in technology-related fields and the desire to use digital tech to help meet human needs.

With applied programs that range from computer science to electrical engineering and operations research, as well as an MBA and law degree, and doctoral and postdoctoral study programs, Cornell’s curriculum provides an all-encompassing education.

Regardless of major, all students spend a substantial portion of their curriculum in studio, where they form interdisciplinary teams to create working prototypes of products. Dean Dan Huttenlocher says it is like “product development in an academic context.”

But aside from traditional academic programs, Cornell seeks to replicate what a real working environment is like in order to help their students acclimatize to the challenges of modern day entrepreneurship. The campus itself is purpose-built for the dawn of the digital age, allowing for collaboration and creative partnerships across all disciplines.

Located on Roosevelt Island, which links Manhattan Island and the borough of Queens, Cornell Tech is like a startup community in itself. Currently it houses the Tata Innovation Center, where students and startups work side-by-side on new ideas; the Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center, which serves as Cornell Tech’s learning hub; and a residential building.

Dan believes that by designing courses that are based on a combination of academia and industry, Cornell inspires its students to put their expertise into practice. “We’re building a very special environment,” he says. “It’s a mixture of first-rate academics with top practitioners performing real-world product development.”

Cooper Union: Creativity and entrepreneurship

Cooper Union for the Advancement of Science and Art, a private college at Cooper Square in Manhattan, offers no official degree in entrepreneurship, yet was rated the top entrepreneurial college in Forbes Magazine.

“The secret of Cooper and its successes have a lot to do with our mission – to inspire inventive, creative, and influential voices in our core disciplines of engineering, art and architecture,” Eric Lima, associate professor of mechanical engineering at the college, told Startup Guide.

Cooper Union’s engineering students are constantly engaged in creative projects, whether that’s through classes like Engineering and Entrepreneurship, or Principles of Design, or through programs like the Invention Factory that give students the opportunity to develop and test a product over the course of a six-week intensive accelerator summer program.

Students are encouraged to employ creativity not only for business purposes, but also humanitarian ones. The act of creating is understood by Cooper’s students as a vehicle to make “enlightened contributions to society” in whatever field they are in.

Photo: James Ewing, Courtesy of The New School

The New School: Art, design and innovation

At the New School, a multifaceted university comprising a design school, undergraduate liberal arts college, and graduate school, the mission is to cultivate individuals who are engaged with the needs of the world. And this isn’t just through one style of learning.

Here, hybridity – the idea of working across disciplines to find solutions – is the name of the game. Traditional boundaries of the classroom break down as the campus becomes a design studio, rehearsal space and research center for students wishing to apply their skills through a variety of mediums.

Through an integrated academic approach to learning, students can refine their critical thinking, research and investigative skills to help them identify, and solve problems within their particular field of study.

With 10,000 students and a number of offerings in the entrepreneurship field, including academic courses, programs and funding opportunities for startups, it’s a great place for students to ideate, innovate and collaborate.

“Students who want to make change in the world do so in an environment that’s increasingly complex,” says Joel Towers, executive dean of Parsons School of Design at the New School. “Amidst all of the hybrid, crossover, cross-disciplinary, and intersectional approaches, there’s also a deep commitment to excellence and specific subject area knowledge.”  

The New School seek to recruit and inspire students who are engaged innovators: the kind who are self-directed, and will consequently succeed in an entrepreneurial environment.

Photo: Ryan Song / Startup Guide

Fordham University: Entrepreneurial roots

Fordham is at the forefront of the entrepreneurship space among schools in NYC. This is hardly surprising since its founder, John Hughes, was an entrepreneur himself as the first person to bring Catholic education to the city.

Collaborative learning is woven into the very fabric of Fordham University, a private research center and the only Jesuit university in NYC, where 15 percent of students take entrepreneurship courses.

With campuses in the Bronx and Manhattan, and partnerships with Fordham’s law and business schools, as well as many corporate partners, Fordham offers a truly diverse experience for students across the spectrum of entrepreneurship.

The university runs its own small business incubator called the Fordham Foundry, offers courses across its two main campuses in everything from “Executing the Entrepreneurial Vision” to “Small Business Finance,” and facilitates a network of changemakers through the Social Innovation Collaboratory.

In an annual program with the Kenneth Cole Foundation, a small cohort of freshmen participate together in a yearlong fellowship. Aimed at creating socially conscious businesses, aspiring entrepreneurs form teams to solve the greatest global problems. Students learn not only how to execute their own ideas, but how to align them with creating a better world.

Main photo: Ryan Song / Startup Guide

*This article was originally published on October 17th, 2018 and updated on January 15th, 2019.