The Nasdaq Educational Foundation grant provides support for events and programming related to entrepreneurship and public policy.

Upcoming Events

Fall 2019


Past Events

Mapping Data Flows: How the Largest Technology Companies Collect, Use, and Share User Information

Mapping Data: How the Largest Tech Firms Use Your Data


October 29, 2019
John Battelle, Columbia's School of International And Public Affairs (SIPA) Senior Research Scholar, Adjunct Professor, Co-founder & CEO Of Recount Media, along with his Research Assistants: Zoe Martin (SIPA MPA) Natasha Bhuta (SIPA MPA), Matthew Albassi (MS Data Journalism), and Veronica Penney (MS Data Journalism) transformed the “Big Four” (Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook) terms of service and data policies — the thousands of lines of code that govern the use of personal data — into a database and interactive visualization, an initial version of which they invited audience members to explore and critique.


Can Digital and Offline Activism Lead to Government Action?

February 21, 2019
Miguel Lago, the President-Director of Nossas and city-focused activist group Meu Rio, spoke to students about gaining 400,000 active members and mobilizing activists around key policy issues. Lago discussed his findings from surveys and quantitative data analysis of more than 300 campaigns in 10 cities, which underscored the Internet’s ability to create solidarity but that offline activities and narratives more successfully mobilize citizens. Lago and his partners Arthur Aguilar and Alessandra Orofino spoke candidly about technology and models that work for action and those that do not engage people.


Fireside Chat with Nicolas Colin, Author of Hedge: A Greater Safety Net for the Entrepreneurial Age

February 12, 2019
Nicolas Colin and Ian Hathaway led an informal chat with students about how government policies shape entrepreneurship, providing a comparison between the French concept of social safety nets and the policies of the Reagan era in America. Colin discussed his new book, which is meant to be a starting point for discussions and offers key lessons from his time as a consultant to several startups and governments. Hathaway, in his role at the Center for American Entrepreneurship, encouraged students to think about entrepreneurship as a creative pursuit, one that adds to the overall innovation economy and that an individual can pursue if they have a robust system of support and an understanding of their consumer base.


How We Turned $120,000 Into a Billion-Dollar Company

January 28, 2019
Neil Blumenthal, co-founder and co-CEO of e-commerce eyeglasses company Warby Parker, discussed the early formation of his company and provided key lessons for aspiring entrepreneurs, including the importance of knowing a company’s brand, testing, and having a clear purpose and mission.  The event was attended by more than 100 students.


How Cities Spur Entrepreneurship and Innovation

How Cities Spur Entrepreneurship.jpg

SIPA How Cities Spur Entrepreneurship Panel
Panelists (left to right): Daniel Correa, Hollie Russon Gilman, Euan Robertson and John Dearie
On November 14 2018, the Entrepreneurship & Policy Initiative hosted a panel discussion on the role of city governments in cultivating and sustaining a sound entrepreneurship ecosystem. Panelists were Daniel Correa, Senior Advisor at the Center for American Entrepreneurship and Co-Founder of Smart Cities Lab; Euan Robertson, Director of Strategic Planning & Special Projects at Columbia Technology Ventures and former Chief Operating Officer of the New York City Economic Development Corporation. The discussion was moderated by Hollie Russon Gilman, Lecturer and Post-Doctoral Fellow at SIPA. Following the opening remarks of SIPA Dean Merit E. Janow and John Dearie, Founder and President of the Center for American Entrepreneurship, the panelists provided an overview of cities’ role in the establishment, development and growth of entrepreneurial ecosystems. These include assessing the city’s hard assets (e.g. infrastructure and capital) and soft assets (e.g., talent and institutional strengths), identifying levers that the government could use to strengthen the city’s overall competitiveness, establishing partnerships within and across sectors, and encouraging strong community engagement. A centerpiece of the discussion was how policy makers utilize the economic prize competition model as a powerful tool to incentivize entrepreneurs and stimulate economic activity. Each panelist shared their insights on a few examples, such as New York City’s Big Apps competition, and Columbus’ Smart City Challenge. The panel also dove into Amazon’s HQ2 bid as an example of the prize competition model, and how a large talent pool and considerable incentives offered by the government might have supported big cities like New York in landing the contract. To foster and sustain a scalable and inclusive entrepreneurship ecosystem, the panel suggested policy makers need to reduce incumbents’ anti-competition behaviors, improve city mobility, and nurture homegrown startups. In the end, the panelists encouraged the Columbia community to actively participate in various aspects of entrepreneurship and innovation beyond research activities. The event was attended by nearly 90 faculty and students across the campus, with a lively Q&A discussion.


The Transformation of Internet Business – the Role of Data, Technology and Policy

John Battelle, the co-founding editor of Wired magazine and helped launch a laundry list of mostly media-based technology companies, joined the SIPA faculty in the Fall 2018 as a senior research scholar. The entrepreneur, author, and journalist with 31 years’ experience in technology and media delivered a talk at SIPA on the role of data, technology, and public policy in driving and fostering Internet Business’ transformation, including case studies on the “Internet Big Five”: Amazon, Facebook, Google, Apple and Microsoft. Battelle also discussed that a fusion of tech and capitalism has made internet much more commodified over the last decade. To cope up with this notable change, we need a different approach to how we process information and how our information is processed. Battle shared his research project at SIPA on mapping the dissemination of information in the new digital age. The project, called Mapping Data Flows, will create a multi-layered map of how data flows within one highly complex technology system, and is expected to cover advertising technology, agriculture, health care and financial services industries. More than 65 faculty and students from Columbia’s schools of business and journalism joined SIPA’s own for this interactive conversation.

Details of the event are available at https://sipa.columbia.edu/news/entrepreneur-journalist-john-battelle-discusses-transformation-internet-business


SIPA senior research scholar John Battelle
John Battelle, the cofounding editor of Wired magazine (among other endeavors), recently joined SIPA as a senior research scholar.

Beat Financial Criminals - Technology as the New Weapon


SIPA Panelists Kamil Kaluza and Neepa Patel
Panelists Kamil Kaluza and Neepa Patel with students

On October 23 2018, the Entrepreneurship & Policy Initiative co-hosted a panel with two leading entrepreneurs, Kamil Kaluza and Neepa Patel, on technological innovations in combating financial crime. Kaluza, SIPA ‘06, is the Chief Revenue Officer at QuantaVerse, a leading provider of Artificial Intelligence and data science solutions to fight financial crime. Patel is the Chief Compliance Officer and Director of Regulatory Products at R3, ranked as number six on the The Wall Street Journal's list of Tech Companies to Watch in 2018. The panelists discussed the fact that financial crime is one of the largest systemic threats to the global economy, with a potentially devastating impact for businesses and communities. Rapid changes in both finance and technology have enabled criminal activities--money laundering, terrorist financing and cyber attacks -- to reach new levels of sophistication. Kaluza and Patel also shared how their organizations have been developing and utilizing technology based tools, such as AI, data science and distributed ledger technology (DLT) to combat financial criminals. In regards to policy implications, the panelists talked about how policy support is needed for data privacy, cryptocurrency, and cross-border information sharing. There is also great potential for open communication between the public and private sectors to develop practical and sustainable solutions. Kaluza and Patel encouraged Columbia students to proactively participate in the innovation process by developing a balance of hard and soft skills. Over 45 attendees from different Columbia schools joined the lively discussion.


On September 12, 2018, Steve Case, one of America’s best-known and most accomplished entrepreneurs and business leaders visited Columbia University’s Low Library to talk about how this third wave of internet innovation will impact economies, public policy, and entrepreneurship. He was joined in discussion by former U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew, a visiting professor at SIPA, and by Dean Merit E. Janow as moderator.

For the past five years, Steve Case has crisscrossed the U.S. in a big red bus, with the express purpose of going to the parts of America most venture capitalists pay extra to fly over. Case calls this initiative the Rise of the Rest—a titular nod to the places, people, and industries left behind by the recent wave of services and apps that used the internet to reshape entire economies (think Facebook).  The title also doubles as a warning: that a third wave of internet-based innovation is about to roll, and that the wise are already catching the tide.

Lew, who served as the top economic advisor for the world's largest national economy from 2013 to 2017, emphasized the government’s role in ensuring that infrastructure and workforce education meet economic needs.

Dean Janow, who has prioritized blending policy and entrepreneurship with programs like the Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant, said the event highlighted the convergence of business and policy that many SIPA graduates choose to pursue.

The event was attended by hundreds of Columbia students, alumni, faculty, and guests and sparked a lively discussion of entrepreneurship on campus.

steve case et al 9-12.jpg

SIPA Dean Merit E. Janow, Steve Case, and Jacob Lew
Dean Merit E. Janow, investor Steve Case, and former U.S. Treasury Secretary Jacob Lew discussed strategies to support tech entrepreneurship over a wider geographic area.

View full event coverage:


Video interviews of Mr. Steve Case, Secretary Lew and Dean Janow:

Steve Case: Leveling the Playing Field

Secretary Jacob Lew: Creating an Entrepreneurial Environment

Dean Merit E. Janow: The Changing Profile of Entrepreneurship

the peril and promise of cryptocurrencies

On March 28th,  SIPA’s Entrepreneurship and Public Policy Initiative co-hosted a discussion panel on the promises and perils of cryptocurrencies and the technology that provides their backbone, blockchain. Paul Vigna, author of Age of Cryptocurrency and former financial reporter spoke about the birth of Bitcoin, how it was perceived, and how markets and exchanges have matured, also giving us insight into how authorities perceive and attempt to regulate the ever-expanding array of cryptocurrencies. Mary Rich, VP of Investment Strategy at Goldman Sachs, talked about how large financial institutions approach the subject of cryptocurrencies, how they are incorporating blockchain into their trading platforms, and what the future for digital currencies looks like from the point of view of an insider in the financial markets. Lasty, SIPA alum Christian van de Werken, IBM senior consultant, showed us how they are building a supply chain backed by a blockchain digital infrastructure, and how it improves the efficiency, transparency, and trustworthiness of the whole process, creating value for the suppliers, vendors, retailers, and consumers.

lunch and learn with miriam altman, kinvolved

On March 23, SIPA Next Generation Fellow and CEO and co-founder of Kinvolved, a social enterprise driven to decrease student absenteeism, Miriam Altman spoke to students. Talking about how to hire and go from concept to launch, Miriam spoke about how she and her co-founder from NYU Wagner developed a suite of tools to help schools and parents communicate. Understanding the various barriers to parent-teacher engagement, Kinvolved prioritizes student achievement by seeking to reduce miscommunication and student absenteeism.

fireside chat with micah sifry, civic hall

On March 16, SIPA’s Entrepreneurship and Public Policy Initiative hosted Micah Sifry, co-founder of Civic Hall and the Personal Democracy Forum, for an evening of conversation focused on emerging trends in civic technology and startups. The event was attended by students from various concentrations, faculty and civic leaders. Sifry and students discussed the challenges and points of attraction of civic tech from government leaders, and the gap between the “buyers” and “builders” of civic tech. Sifry encouraged students to pursue entrepreneurial endeavors despite initial impediments and he also highlighted the distorted, filter-bubble reality of social media and pushed potential innovators to build civic life outside of social media.

how can cities spur civic tech? featuring sidewalk labs, civic hall, silicon harlem and more

On February 12, SIPA’s Entrepreneurship and Public Policy Initiative hosted a conversation in partnership with Civic Hall and Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs. The conversation: “How Do Cities Spur Civic Tech” included Shaina Doar, Sidewalk Labs; Bruce Lincoln, Silicon Harlem; Jose Serrano McClain, from the New York City’s Office of the Chief Technology Officer & NYCx; and Dr. Hollie Russon Gilman, SIPA. During this standing room only event, the panelists shared their experiences bringing technology and innovation into urban areas and fostering entrepreneurship within communities. This conversation comes at a time when cities outside of Silicon Valley are positioning themselves as petri dishes for new venture capital dollars, talent, and entrepreneurial activity. In fact, New York City now beats Silicon Valley in terms of venture funding. 

One of the key topics discussed was the role of public and private sectors in fostering entrepreneurship and digital innovation. For example, Jose Serrano McClain discussed the policy behind New York City’s first urban Innovation Lab in Brownsville, Brooklyn. A goal of the lab is to bring together community residents, government, civil society, and technology companies to develop and implement innovative solutions to quality of life issues. At its core, it is an experiment to understand if and how city government can catalyze innovation and bring technology companies into large policy questions. In a place with staggering high rates of poverty, The Brownsville Innovation Lab is addressing the question of equity front on: can entrepreneurship and innovation be applied to address inequality?  Similarly, Silicon Harlem is also addressing the question of equity by situating Harlem as a Technology and Innovation Hub.

Some of their projects included a large broadband infrastructure plan, crossing the intergenerational divide when it comes to digital literacy, as well as working to attract tech companies to locate in Harlem. Ensuring access to technology requires addressing underlying community concerns, especially in communities where tech-literacy may be low. It is important to ensure that technology is viewed as a way to bring people together –not simply imposing top-down solutions. Sidewalk Lab is addressing these questions as well, in designing the smart city of the future in Toronto’s Eastern Water front. The project aims to leverage urban design and new digital technology, which includes IoT sensors and interfaces to create economic opportunity as well as sustainability, affordability, and mobility. A project of this scope requires coordination of many sectors including government, community organizations, technology companies, and start-ups.

Meet and greet with sipa next generation fellows

On February 8, 2018, SIPA hosted the inaugural SIPA Next Generation Young Entrepreneurship Fellows in dialogue with Dr. Hollie Russon-Gilman with support from the Nasdaq Educational Foundation. The Fellows include Noelle Francis, co-founder and Executive Director of Heat Seek NYC; Jeremy Hise, founder of Real Time Ecology (RTE); Mike Ward, TurboVote Program Director at Democracy Works; Miriam Altman, CEO and co-founder of Kinvolved; and Rebecca Garcia, co-founder of CoderDojo.  Students attended the event from SIPA and across campus with backgrounds in the public and private sector that were interested in learning more about innovation, entrepreneurship and public policy. The discussion provided an opportunity for students to ask one-on-one questions with leaders in entrepreneurship about the importance of trial-and-error, expanding capacity, and getting their projects off the ground. During the course of the fellowship, fellows will organize off-campus and on-campus opportunities for SIPA students to introduce them to the city's thriving entrepreneurial scene, and walk them through how they started their venture and different revenue models for social enterprises.

fireside chat with katie appel duda, bloomberg philanthropies

On January 29, SIPA’s Entrepreneurship and Public Policy Imitative hosted an intimate Fireside Chat with Katie Duda Appel, Director of the Bloomberg Philanthropies Innovation Teams with Dr. Hollie Russon-Gilman. A goal of the event was to discuss local governments and their embrace of technology to innovate the problems we face today. For example, how data-driven, Internet-enabled and sustainable “smart cities” have attracted considerable attention in the context of urban governance. One of the topics was that technology is a powerful tool for innovation and entrepreneurship, and when used in the correct context, driven by human-centered design, can partner with government leaders to change the way policy is created.

The future of net neutrality

Last month, with less than a week remaining before the FCC’s expected repeal of the Open Internet Rules, a panel of four experts convened before an audience in Davis Auditorium to discuss what such a repeal is likely to mean for the Internet. Though all four spoke from different perspectives—three were technology experts and one an Internet consumer advocate and lawyer—all expressed concerns about the repeal. (Though proponents of the repeal had been invited, none were able to attend.)

The panel was moderated by Ethan Katz-Bassett, a professor of electrical engineering at Columbia, who is an expert on Internet services and content delivery, and by Brittney Gallagher, Digital Culture Correspondent for Digital Village, the oldest running radio program in Los Angeles that covers the Internet.

The discussion started with a rundown of the three bright lines that cannot be crossed under current rules—no throttling, no blocking, no paid prioritization. It is these rules (as well as other general-conduct rules) that, according to Sarah Morris ensure that Comcast doesn’t prioritize its streaming platform over Netflix or that a company can’t pay AT&T to favor its traffic over the traffic of a competitor.

While much attention has been focused on how the order will remove protections that prevent internet service providers (ISPs) like Comcast and Verizon from restricting or prioritizing traffic, Henning Schulzrinne, whose second term as CTO at the FCC just ended in October, pointed out the order also removes the FCC’s power to regulate Internet service, handing over this responsibility to the FTC. Given that the FTC has no authority to issue blanket rules to ban blocking or prevent other discriminatory practices, the US will effectively have no Internet regulation at all, a situation Schulzrinne calls unprecedented.

Another topic discussed was the lack of competition among the last-mile providers, that is, the ISPs that control the cables that run from the Internet’s main transit cables to smaller, neighborhood-scale cables that go to each individual house. Expensive as it is to lay these cables, no one was advocating for replicating last-mile cables, but under current conditions, the company that builds the last-mile cable controls access to customers.

Without competition and soon without any regulation, there is nothing to prevent AT&T, Verizon, or Comcast from monetizing their access to customers. In fact, in a market economy, there is every incentive to exploit one’s stranglehold on consumer eyeballs to extract access fees from content providers. While large rich companies like Amazon, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft, and Alphabet (Google)—the “frightful five”—can afford to pay for access to customers, many other companies cannot. It’s especially difficult for fledging startups and for not-for-profit sites and services.

For Vishal Misra, the solution is to switch from the “infrastructure-based competition” the US has currently to a model where service is based on competition between ISPs, with all ISPs having access to a common last mile everywhere and competing for customers by providing better services. It is a solution, however, that requires telecommunications oversight.

The potential downsides for innovation and new services of the FCC’s expected action was another of the topics covered. While FCC chairman Ajit Pai has argued that repeal of net neutrality is necessary for investments and to make the internet better through faster internet speeds, Peter Boothe said his analysis of M-Lab measurements over time suggests that Internet performance in the US improved at least as fast—and probably faster—since February 2015 (when the current regulations went into effect) than it was improving before the regulations.

The panel discussion in its entirety can be seen here.

Lunch with the head of international policy & strategy of uber: matthew devlin

The Entrepreneurship & Policy Initiative co-sponsored a lunch discussion with Matthew Devlin, organized by TISA, the Technology and Innovation Student Association at SIPA. Matt is the Head of International Policy & Strategy at Uber and oversees the public policy aspects of the company’s expansion and operations outside the United States. During lunch, Matt shared his experience working in public policy issues for a big tech company and touched upon the specific policy challenges that Uber is facing. He discussed the main benefits and drawbacks of ride-sharing for a city and described how Uber disrupted the taxi industry to the extent that some cities decided to ban it – a situation Uber is now working to avoid in the future. The conversation later focused on the advent of autonomous vehicles - what that means for Uber and its drivers and what progress the company has made at fully automating its fleet. Finally, students asked about the possible career trajectories for a policy student to get a job in a tech company. 

Prior to joining Uber, Matt worked on institution building and public sector reform across Latin America, Eastern Europe, the Middle East, and Southeast Asia. Matt holds a BA in history from Yale, an MPA from the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, and a law degree from Yale Law School. He is a David Rockefeller Fellow at the Trilateral Commission, a term member of the Council on Foreign Relations, a member of the International Crisis Group’s Ambassador Council, and an avid rugby player.

Driverless cities: how autonomous vehicles will shape our urban future

The Entrepreneurship & Policy Initiative co-sponsored a panel on autonomous vehicles organized by TISA, the Technology and Innovation Student Association at SIPA. Hod Lipson, professor of Mechanical Engineering and Data Science at Columbia and author of the book "Driverless: Intelligent cars and the read ahead," and Patrick Smith, Project Manager at the autonomous vehicles team for the NYC Department of Transportation, discussed how driverless vehicles will transform cities, their impact on urban planning, and the policy challenges that will arise. The panel was moderated by Hugo Zylberberg, the Tech & Policy Fellow at SIPA and featured questions from the audience. The panelists walked the audience through the benefits and drawbacks of autonomous vehicles and emphasized far-reaching effects across a multitude of industries. The panelists also explained the different levels of a vehicle’s autonomy, made projections regarding vehicularity - the time where there will be more autonomous vehicles in cities than non-autonomous vehicles, and outlined several moral and regulatory considerations. The discussion concluded with a question about the new types of jobs that will be created due to the rise of autonomous vehicles.

entrepreneurship & innovation in china

This Entrepreneurship and Policy Initiative event focused on the rise of entrepreneurship and innovation in China and the effects these two forces have had on economic growth and the job market in the country. Hosted by Dean Merit Janow, the panel discussion featured a group of Chinese entrepreneurs with backgrounds in education, technology, and social enterprise, many of whom are now angel investors in many different sectors. Following introductions from speakers, the discussion focused on what it takes to be an entrepreneur in China and how best to prepare oneself for a career in entrepreneurship. 

The speakers included Jian Feng Chen, Managing Partner of Zhongguancun River Capital, whose career since the 90s has been devoted to the popularization and commercialized development of the Internet. Yu Hai Song is currently an angel investor of JD.com and Chairman and Founding Partner of Zen Water Capital, who, through his investment banking work, shaped the banking industry in China. Dr. Gang George Wu is the Chairman of the DoubleBridge Group, a company covering the investment, financial services, software and IT services sectors. Dr. Wu specializes in angel investment in the areas of internet technology, renewable energy, and environment protection. Yan Yang is the Executive Partner at PKU Venture Capital and has been involved in investments in more than 40 enterprises in the internet, medicine, chemicals, and television production industries, among others. Long Wen Yu is Founding Partner of Taiyou Fund and focuses on seed investment and angel private equity fund management. Can Zhang is Chairman of Heneng Group; her companies have received notable success under her leadership. 

frugal innovation: co-building a better world with fewer resources


SIPA speaker Navi Radjou and attendees
Frugal Innovation with Navi Radjou (center) with attendees including moderator Dr Hollie Russon Gilman, professor David Park, and students, Aliya Bhatia, Malgorzata Resniack, Gabriel Guggisberg, and Priyanka Soni.

In mid-October, we had Navi Radjou, an advisor in Silicon Valley, a fellow at the Judge Business School at Cambridge University and author of several books including Jugaad Innovation and Frugal Innovation, speak on what frugal innovation is and what it means for innovation today across the world. Co-building a sustainable global community for Radjou means flipping the question on its head: not how is this going to help, but who is this going to help? Radjou defined frugal innovation as "trying to create simultaneous economic and societal values while minimizing resources." Audience members ranged from SIPA students and alumni to local business leaders pursuing development all across the globe. Questions from the audience ranged from what this sort of innovation looks like at the national and international levels, and the importance of scaleable technology.

Check out a snapshot of the event here: https://youtu.be/XD0eg0NFtEc

Want more of the conversation? Follow the #FrugalInnovationAtSIPA hashtag on Twitter.

Democratizing education: the future of global education technology

Earlier this month, we hosted a conference led by Professor Sarah Hollay on Democratizing Education: The Future of Global EdTech. The conference featured a panel of speakers including Denis Mizne, Director of Fundação Lemann, Pranav Kothari, founder of MindSpark, and a keynote by Yin Lu, the Vice President International at Khan Academy. Talking scalability, students, teachers and nonprofit executives left the event with concrete ideas about innovative strategies about how to disrupt antiquated school systems around the globe. By talking about user-testing in countries like India and Ghana, and having representatives from Mindspark in India and the Brazilian, Fundação Lemann, the conversation was grounded in questions of access and equity and the need for education especially today around the world. The reception that followed demonstrated the importance of this topic with attendees swapping cards and talking about educator exchange programs over refreshments. The conference kicked off a month long Global EdTech challenge where participants were selected to brainstorm and iterate ideas about solving some of the most pervasive education policy problems using technology, a challenge that will culminate in the Spring of 2018 with a trip to Brazil where participants will be able to pitch their ideas to entrepreneurs in Brazil and get tangible results and advice from experts in the field.

Israel: turning liabilities into assets

The inaugural event of the Entrepreneurship and Policy Initiative featured a special discussion, Israel: Turning Liabilities into Assets, between Ambassador Ron Prosor, Professor Eli Noam, and Dean Merit E. Janow. Ambassador Ron Prosor, who served as Israel's Permanent Representative to the United Nations from 2011 to 2015, Israel's Ambassador to the United Kingdom, and Director-General of Israel's Foreign Ministry, spoke about the factors that contributed to Israel's success as a nation currently at the forefront of entrepreneurship and innovation. The discussion that followed revealed how certain success models adopted by Israel can potentially be replicated abroad. The attendance and lively Q&A session revealed high student interest in entrepreneurship and innovation at a macro policy level.

How Does Technology Enrich Urban Policy?

The SIPA Entrepreneurship & Policy Initiative hosted an evening discussion with Alphabet’s Sidewalk Labs: How Does Tech Enrich Urban Policy in February 2017.

Sidewalk Labs is an Alphabet company that imagines, designs, tests, and builds new technologies that address big urban problems across a range of areas, from mobility to housing to government services. The event at Columbia Faculty House, featured a leading panel of experts in policy, technology, and entrepreneurship.


SIPA event with Sidewalk Labs
SIPA Dean Merit E. Janow, Miguel Gamiño Jr., Hollie Russon Gilman, Rohit Aggarwala, Maria Gotsch, Andrew Rasiej, Noelle Francois

Panelists included: Rohit Aggarwala, Chief Policy Officer, Sidewalk Labs; Noelle Francois, CEO, Heat Seek NYC; Miguel Gamiño Jr., Chief Technology Officer, The City of New York; Maria Gotsch, President and CEO, Partnership Fund for New York City with a conversation moderated by Andrew Rasiej, Founder and CEO, Civic Hall.  

Dean Merit E. Janow opened the sold-out event which explored how technology is invigorating urban policy.  The panel also highlighted how government can work with entrepreneurs and the tech sector to improve service delivery.  Panelists also discussed how to relieve tensions between policymakers and tech entrepreneurs.


SIPA Panel with Sidewalk Labs
Miguel Gamiño Jr., Chief Technology Officer, The City of New York

The dynamic panel of thought leaders at the intersection of technology, urban policy, and innovation, emphasized that collaboration between stakeholders is needed to keep pace with emerging technology.


SIPA Panel with Sidewalk Labs
Rohit Aggarwala, Chief Policy Officer, Sidewalk Labs

Panelist Bios:

Rohit Aggarwala: Chief Policy Officer, Sidewalk Labs
Rohit is an experienced executive and thought leader in sustainability, environmental, and urban issues. A member of the team building Sidewalk Labs, an urban innovation firm founded by Dan Doctoroff and Google, he is also the co-chair of the Regional Plan Association’s Fourth Regional Plan for the New York metropolitan area and an adjunct professor at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

Noelle Francois: CEO, Heat Seek NYC
Noelle has a background in social justice, with a focus on housing policy and community development. Heat Seek NYC is a civic hacking project turned nonprofit tech startup, aimed at keeping the heat on for thousands of New Yorkers each winter. Noelle leads efforts to forge partnerships with community organizations and tenant advocates to ensure that Heat Seek's sensors go to tenants who need them the most.

Miguel Gamiño Jr.: Chief Technology Officer, The City of New York
Miguel previously served the City and County of San Francisco as Chief Information Officer (CIO) and Executive Director of the Department of Technology. Prior to joining San Francisco in July 2013, he served the City of El Paso, Texas as the Chief Information & Innovation Officer, and Director of the Department of Information Technology Services. In that role he co-founded, along with the Washington, D.C. CTO, the Council of Global City CIOs.

Maria Gotsch: President and CEO, Partnership Fund for New York City
Maria leads the Fund’s investment operations and spearheaded the creation and operation of a number of the Fund’s strategic initiatives, including: FinTech Innovation Lab; New York Digital Health Accelerator; NYCSeed (seed financing for IT/digital media companies); BioAccelerate Prize NYC (proof-of-concept funding for university-based biomedical research); Arts Entrepreneurial Loan Fund (low cost loans for mid-size arts groups); and ReStart Central and Financial Recovery Fund (assistance and funding for small businesses impacted by 9/11/01).

Andrew Rasiej: Founder & CEO, Civic Hall
Andrew is a civic and social entrepreneur, technology strategist, and Founder of Personal Democracy Media focusing on the intersection of technology, politics, and government. He recently founded Civic Hall, a 18,000 square foot community center and event space for civic innovation in NYC. He is the Chairman of the NY Tech Meetup, a 50,000+-member organization of technologists, venture funders, marketers, representing start up and more mature companies using technology to transform themselves, New York City, and the world. He is the Founder of MOUSE.org which focuses on 21st century public education. He is also Senior Technology Advisor to the Sunlight Foundation a Washington DC organization using technology to make government more transparent.

SIPA Dean’s Public Challenge Grant

Throughout the semester the Nasdaq Educational Foundation supported the SIPA Dean’s Public Policy Challenge Grant, which enables student-designed projects that use information and communications technology and/or data analytics to solve global policy problems. The Program’s goal is to identify and support projects that have a high potential to be implemented and produce a meaningful impact on the target problem in relatively near term. Solutions may be market-based, public or philanthropic supported, or a mix. Over the course of the semester, the initial applicants were winnowed down by a team of expert judges. Finalists will be announced in February 2017 and the winning teams will be announced in April 2017 at the #StartupColumbia Festival.

In the fall semester, the eleven semifinalist teams participated in an interactive Boot Camp. Sessions focused on specialized training in targeted areas. Some examples include:

  • Prototype or model of parts of the process:
    Matt Weber, VP of UX and Design at Zoomdata and UX Adjunct & UX Curriculum Advisory Board Member at NYU
  • Legal issues for creating startups:
    Daniel LangTechnology Companies & Life Sciences Partner at Goodwin Procter LLP
  • Financial planning for new enterprises: 
    Sarah Holloway, Lecturer in financial management and social enterprise expert

The eleven semifinalist teams are taking an entrepreneurial approach to a range of issues: “FikraHub” is launching an online startup incubator for Syrian refugees; “CiteMe” is connecting and verifying citizen scientists and their data; and “Trust Psychology” is providing access to a trust-based online international psychological community specifically designed at Chinese college students.

In December the Challenge Grant semifinalist teams presented their ideas and development plans in preparation for the next phase of the competition in January. Panelists provided structured feedback and recommendations based on their experience launching and leading ventures. The panel included Dean Merit E. Janow, Kevin P. RyanHilary Gosher an expert in growing and scaling global technology and software companies; Amy Abrams a 2016 Senior Fellow at the Harvard Advanced Leadership Initiative and the President of the Abrams Foundation, and Christopher Reim, Managing Director of the Community Development Venture Capital Alliance, and a Managing General Partner of the Innovate NY Fund, LP teams.

Women Technopreneurs

The Nasdaq Educational Foundation co-sponsored a “Women Technopreneurs” panel which brought in CEOs and Founders of successful tech startups in clean water and socially conscious travel.

The event showcased entrepreneurs who have leveraged technology to turn their ideas and life passions into successful, scalable, and impactful tech businesses.

The panel, moderated by SIPA alumna and social impact entrepreneur Lindsay Litowitz, featured Visit.org CEO and Founder Michal Alter, and mWater CEO and Founder Annie Feighery. Annie and Michal are both SIPA alumnae who have leveraged their training in management and social impact to launch their ventures.

The closing reception was catered by Eat OffBeat, a startup catering company co-founded by SIPA alumna, Manal Kahi, which serves food conceived and made by refugees settled in New York City. The reception provided an opportunity for students to engage with panelists one-on-one for networking and mentoring.

The event was co-sponsored by the Management Concentration and by three SIPA student groups: Women in Leadership, Columbia Entrepreneurship Society, and the Tech & Innovation Student Association.

Turning Societal Challenges into Entrepreneurial Opportunities


SIPA speaker Kevin Ryan
Entrepreneur Kevin Ryan Discusses Intersection of Tech and Public Policy

Entrepreneur Kevin P. Ryan, a founder of Internet-based businesses including Gilt, Business Insider, MongoDB, and Zola, recently visited SIPA to discuss how New York City can use innovation, technology, and entrepreneurship to address public policy challenges.

The December 15 conversation with Dean Merit E. Janow of SIPA drew students from across Columbia’s entrepreneurship network, representing SIPA and other schools at the University.

In a wide-ranging discussion, Ryan and Janow touched upon several pillars at the intersection of entrepreneurship, innovation, and public policy, including the importance of leveraging human talent, the role of the media, and the types of regulation that can foster or inhibit entrepreneurial foundations in a society. They also considered conditions that give rise to global innovation as well as the special relationship worldwide among entrepreneurship, digital technologies, and data.

Ryan emphasized that people and ideas are the key building blocks to urban innovation, and said burgeoning opportunities in global cities can be primed by the establishment of research institutions and abundance of skilled and educated populations. Indeed, the discussion made clear that universities and urban environments are both important foundational elements in a startup ecosystem.

The event concluded with questions from the audience, including from attendees who sought practical advice for student-led startups and social impact ventures. 


The Politics of Innovation

On September 20, 2016 the Entrepreneurship & Policy initiative held an event on “Politics of Innovation,” supported by the Nasdaq Educational Foundation. 

The event featured Dr. Mark Zachary Taylor, formerly a solid-state physicist, now specializing in international relations, political economy, and comparative politics who discussed his new book, The Politics of Innovation: Why Some Countries are Better than Others at Science and Technology (Oxford Univ. Press, 2016). 

Dr. Taylor’s research, which seeks to explain why some countries are better than others at science and technology, has been published in top journals including Foreign Affairs, International Organization, Security Studies, Journal of Business Venturing, Review of Policy Research, Harvard International Review, Journal of Health Politics, Policy and Law, and the Journal of Political Science Education. He is currently an Associate Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology at the Sam Nunn School of International Affairs. 

The discussion centered on the intersection of technology and public policy, and explored practical applications and the ecosystems for entrepreneurial aspirations of SIPA students domestically and internationally. The attendance and lively Q&A session revealed high student interest in innovation, public policy and digital technology transformation. The event was also promoted across the University's entrepreneurial enterprise—at the Business, Data Science, and Engineering Schools—and was featured in campus publications.