The SIPA Entrepreneurship & Policy Initiative engages scholars, entrepreneurs, and leaders from the public and private sectors to advance understanding of how to promote innovation, entrepreneurship, and social entrepreneurship.

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

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


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.
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.  

Want more of the conversation? Follow the #FrugalInnovationAtSIPA hashtag on Twitter and stay tuned for a video of the event!

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.


Alphabet’s 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.


Alphabet’s 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.


Alphabet’s 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


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.