ffVC and NYU are mixing researchers with investors in the name of machine intelligence

The timing was perfect. Just as startups were settling into NYU and ffVC’s new brains-meet-money accelerator, “AI Nexus Lab,” Uber acquired Geometric Intelligence. In a stroke of luck, the startup that would become Uber’s AI lab happened to have been raised by NYU Tandon’s Data Future Labs. Uber’s interest in Geometric helped solidify New York’s place in the minds of machine intelligence wonks and brought investor attention to other startups affiliated with the school.

Three months later, the inaugural cohort of the AI Nexus Lab is taking the stage at NYU’s Skirball Center for the Performing Arts to present demos and progress updates. Addressing finance, healthcare, robotics, customer service and omnichannel retail intelligence, the five startups include:

  • Cambrian Intelligence – A customizable operating system for robots
  • Behold.ai – Using deep learning to reduce medical error
  • Alpha Vertex – Analytical tools for finance
  • Klustera – Infusing e-commerce intelligence with brick and mortar insights
  • HelloVERA – AI-powered customer support

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All three founders I spoke with cited the program’s small size as its greatest asset. With mentors like USV’s Fred Wilson, FirstMark Capital’s Matt Turck and Geometric Intelligence’s Gary Marcus, access is the key differentiator between an assembly line and a true accelerator.

Miika Pera of Cambrian Intelligence specifically noted AI Nexus Lab’s help with finding pilot customers. Meanwhile James Fan and LiangLiang Cao of HelloVERA pointed to presentation guidance. And while it wasn’t explicitly mentioned, I’m sure nobody was complaining about the $100,000 that ffVC invested into each startup.

Supporting founders commercialization efforts tends to be particularly key in the machine intelligence space. It’s relatively easy to throw free compute and small amounts of cash at promising businesses, but highly technical founders most often need help tailoring their early-stage startups for product market fit.

NYU and ffVC plan to continue their partnership for a second cohort of AI startups. The deadline for the next batch will be May 3rd, 2017 and that program is expected to begin July 10th.