Five Cornell Tech Companies to Watch

It’s officially fall! We’ve said goodbye to summer — students are back in class, we’re all back to work, and here at Tech:NYC, we’re busy putting together a lineup of projects and programs we’re excited to share throughout the season.

We’ve kicked off the next season of two of our favorite monthly series: one connecting with city leaders — Functions.NYC — and one connecting with industry leaders — Cornell Tech @ Bloomberg. Together with a few research projects and all of our other events, we’re excited by all the big things the New York tech community is doing.

New York tech can’t do it alone, though — so much of its strength is due to the support of the universities and community groups that share our mission for innovation, so we were also excited to mark a new chapter for our friends at Cornell Tech in welcoming Greg Morrisett as its new dean! Morrisett is building on Cornell Tech’s early success and ushering it into its second phase of development, including plans to expand its diversity initiatives and deepen its connections to the larger city. We couldn’t be more excited to support his efforts.

To celebrate all of these beginnings, we’re excited to profile our next set of companies to watch, all of which got their start at Cornell Tech. They’re startups building tech tools to transform health, healthcare, travel, and more. See more of their stories below.

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AIRBUD

What does your company do?
Airbud co-founder and CEO Israel Krush: Airbud creates plug and play conversational AI assistants by seamlessly ingesting the information on a website to allow users to interact with it using voice or chat simply and intuitively, thus increasing engagement and conversions. We focus on organizations in "information-heavy" verticals such as healthcare, travel or retail.  

Why did you found your company in NYC?
IK: NYC is the heart of the U.S. market. Its business scene is wide and diverse, which allows us to approach a variety of potential customers from different industries. It also developed a great ecosystem for tech entrepreneurs and early-stage startups which includes — accelerators, incubators, early-stage investors, and top tech talent coming out of the top universities and the big tech companies residing here. Besides, it’s a great vibrant city to live in, and there’s always something going on. 

You’ve said before that Airbud will focus on sites focused on needed information, such as health care sites. What does that mean for the average person seeking information on the web? What does that mean for organizations trying to get that information out?
IK: That mostly means simplicity and efficiency. The web shouldn’t be a place where people get lost, but it is. Many organizations just have too much information and they struggle with making it accessible for their website visitors. Navigation is a big issue for them. For healthcare organizations that means making the patient experience of finding and booking an appointment with a physician based on various attributes intuitive and fast by simply asking “I’m looking for a cardiologist in the Upper East Side who speaks Spanish and accepts Aetna insurance”. It opens a variety of options for the organizations as well — there’s no more need to handpick only the most popular filters to be presented on the website. There are no “graphical limitations” so all of their data can be fully utilized to the benefit of their customers.

Voice-activated assistants are a fixture in homes. How do you see consumers having an expectation for voice technology driving new experiences in that space?
IK: With all the (justified) hype around smart speakers at home, we often miss the fact that more people use voice assistants on their mobile devices and laptops (mostly mobile devices) than on their smart speakers. While Alexa and Google Home open many new opportunities for organizations, mostly as a new strategic channel, today most of the interactions between organizations and their customers happen on the web. This is why we believe that adding a conversational AI layer for the web (not only voice, but also chat) is the way to go. 

You recently raised $4 million to expand your team (Congrats!). How will that help with your next steps in mind for Airbud?
IK:
The most meaningful metric for us at this stage is the number of successful conversations we have with real users. To get there we need to win enterprise deals (Sales and Marketing), then we need to make our product engaging enough to get conversations (Product, Design, and Front-end), and finally, we need to generate value for our users and make sure the conversations are successful (UX, CX, and Natural Language Understanding). So we’re hiring on all fronts. Specifically in NYC, we are looking for talented account executives and SDRs with enterprise SaaS experience. Feel free to reach out directly to me.

How has the support from Cornell Tech helped build your company?
IK: Cornell Tech is the place where met one of my co-founders, Rom Cohen, pitched Airbud before it was an actual company to dozens of potential investors and customers, got introduced to our first investors — ERA (Entrepreneurs Roundtable Accelerator) — got an office space, and was exposed to the amazing NYC tech ecosystem. So all in all, they were very helpful. 

What brought you to New York?
IK: Cornell Tech’s MBA program. As someone who spent most of his career in technical roles, first as an engineer and then as a product manager, I wanted to expand my business knowledge and network as well as preserve my technical skills and orientation. For me, the combination of Cornell, NYC, and tech-focus made the difference (and in fact, this is the only MBA program I've applied to).

How do you get to your office?
IK: The F train.

Where do you get your favorite pizza slice?
IK: Joe’s Pizza.

Where do you get your favorite bagel? 
IK: Not a big bagels fan... 

What is the best New York waterfront?
IK: The rooftop of “The House” at Cornell Tech, which overlooks the East River with beautiful views of Manhattan, Long Island City, and the edge of Roosevelt Island — it’s the place to watch Macy’s 4th of July fireworks.

What’s your favorite New York building? 
IK: One Bryant Park. Just because I can control its spire color with the Spireworks app.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
IK: Bouchon Bakery at Rockefeller Plaza (assuming you can find a place to sit).

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FIND Genomics

What does your company do?
FIND Genomics CEO and co-founder Sophie Zaaijer: We are creating a bioinformatics software platform that anticipates a new era of medicine where patients are not receiving generic treatments, but personalized treatment plans. Patient cell tissue samples (or “cell lines”) take center stage in the rapidly growing field of personalized medicine and it is used with increasing frequency to help an ever-larger group of patients, so FIND develops software tools for the management of in vitro grown patient cell tissue, where cell lineage tracking is integrated with genetic analysis.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
SZ: NYC has many innovative life science hubs in hospitals, research institutes, universities, and the pharmaceutical industry that are moving the needle in cell-based innovations. We can assist them to work even more efficiently and enable effective collaborations between organizations.

What brought you to New York?
SZ: I moved to NYC  because I was intrigued by the work of professor Yaniv Erlich at Columbia University and the New York Genome Center. I did my postdoctoral research in his lab, after which I was very fortunate to be able to develop and commercialize novel DNA-based technologies at Cornell Tech.

Patient “cell lines” are something we are not hearing every day — could you explain what they are? And why should we care about them?
SZ: A “cell line” is a population of body cells from a single individual that are grown in vitro. Many people are familiar with in vitro fertilization, so a cell line is the in vitro growth of human tissue. The cells are fed and kept in a fit state — similar to how they would be in a human body. Cell lines are however, not used for fertilization, but for experimentation. Why? Well, experimentation with human individuals bears ethical complications and is therefore only done at the last stage of drug development. But if you want to discover a new drug and understand how it interacts with human tissue you can use cell lines.

 Cell-based technologies form a rapidly growing field that creates amazing opportunities to help patients more effectively – it includes cancer cell culture, stem cell technology, organoid technology, and cell therapy. We are passionate about facilitating the optimal management of patient cell tissue, and we do this by integrating DNA analysis into workflows to help keep track of cell lines from all these patients. We believe that our software platform is the way to optimize management of this growing field.

How long are cell lines typically kept in laboratories? 
SZ: Normal cells, such as skin cells, are mortal and would die after a couple of weeks of aging. But by using smart tricks in the lab you can immortalize the cells and you can grow them for months and years in the laboratory. A very famous cell line is from a 31-year old patient named Henrietta Lacks, a woman with cervical cancer. Her cells were one of the first to be cultured back in 1951 and are still cultured today. Her cells are 99 years old now and are still widely used in the biomedical field by thousands of laboratories all over the world. Her cells have helped many people around the globe by aiding the development and testing of new drugs.

How has the support from Cornell Tech helped build your company?
SZ: Cornell Tech and the Jacobs Technion-Cornell Institute have been instrumental for FIND Genomics. They provide funding, time, and guidance to transform a scientist into an entrepreneur able to build a company from the ground up. 

What’s the best part of being based on Roosevelt Island? 
SZ: To be able to see the beautiful skyline of Manhattan every day. 

How do you get to your office?
SZ: I live in Greenwich Village, so I take the F line to get to Roosevelt Island. On sunny days, I bike up to E 34th street and take the ferry.

Where do you get your favorite pizza slice?
SZ: I am probably one of the few people in NYC who is not very keen on pizza.

Where do you get your favorite bagel? 
SZ: Boardwalk Bagel in Far Rockaway.

What is the best New York waterfront?
SZ: Red Hook.

What’s your favorite New York building? 
SZ: The ‘Jenga Tower.’

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
SZ: Most locations of Le Pain Quotidien are pretty good for that purpose. 

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in NYC?
SZ: I got to play viola at Carnegie Hall — we performed for Beethoven’s 9th Symphony with a 200-person choir.

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AUGGI

What does your company do?
auggi co-founder and CEO David Hachuel: auggi is an intelligent gut health companion for patients who suffer from chronic gut conditions like irritable bowel syndrome or Crohn’s disease. You can think of auggi as a guided scientific journey that equips patients with the right software and data tools to better understand the uniqueness of your gut as well as get expert guidance from specialized dietitians. A key aspect of our technology is smart symptom tracking via our computer vision technology which allows anyone with a smartphone to automatically extract clinical data from a stool image.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
DH: auggi was born as a research project at Cornell Tech in NYC. By the end of my graduate studies in May 2019, it became clear to my co-founder Alfonso Martinez, an MBA student at MIT, and I that we wanted to take the idea to market. The decision of staying in New York was quite simple. After becoming one of the recipients of the $100K Startup Award at Cornell Tech, we got office space at Cornell Tech’s Roosevelt Island campus and a continuum of the support that we had been receiving from the institution. This was also complemented by the fact that New York is the greatest living laboratory on Earth and specifically for consumer health products like auggi where we’ve seen numerous success stories in the past (eg. Roman, Oscar, Talkspace, or Noom).

You earned a dual Master’s degree in Health Tech. Why is it important for tech and medicine to team up?
DH: For one, we are all familiar with how software is eating healthcare and how advances in machine learning, as well as an abundance of data, are transforming the clinical landscape. We see this happening in areas like medical imaging where machines can support providers in their decision making or in mining electronic health records. Personally, there is an area of healthcare that I am particularly interested in and that perhaps gets less attention: behavior change. Designing and deploying technologies that target patient behavior change is critical to address the rising costs of chronic conditions. So, whatever your angle to transform healthcare might be, good software can make a huge difference but engineers might encounter many barriers of entry. That’s why it’s critical to teach engineers about the dynamics and challenges of healthcare so they can be better for their ideas to survive.

Your background is in mathematics and computer science, and you’ve worked in quantitative analytics. What made you want to make the switch to entrepreneurialism and health tech?
DH: When I started Cornell Tech, I was convinced that success meant working at a large tech company as an engineer. But after spending months talking to patients who suffer from chronic gut conditions and seeing the frustration and suffering they go through, I saw the opportunity to make a difference using software and became “infected” with the need to solve this problem, even if by just a small bit.

Chronic gut conditions are not typically brought up in conversation. How do you hope to change the narrative for patients living with these conditions?
DH: Patients with chronic gut conditions indeed suffer in silence and isolation under the stigma their symptoms generate in society. We see this changing slowly and our goal is to accelerate this change. Our first attempt involves having people taking pictures of their own stool and learning more about it and why it’s important by using our computer vision technology. In fact, almost six months ago, we launched an applet called train.auggi.ai which allows anyone on the planet to take a picture in an anonymous way and automatically obtain an analysis from our prototype algorithm. We also recently signed a partnership to launch a citizen science campaign with the aim to raise even more awareness and make it ok to talk about such natural phenomena since it directly ties to health.

How has the support from Cornell Tech helped build your company?
DH: Cornell Tech’s unique approach to graduate education gave me the technical as well as entrepreneurial tools and skills necessary to gain courage and decide to take auggi to market. Both faculty and the studio staff, in particular, Deborah Estrin and David Tisch, were not only supportive but also gave me the confidence to try and try harder. It all culminated with the winning of the $100K Startup Award which removed any financial obstacles in the short term and provided a place to work next to other startups. We are deeply thankful for all the support we’ve received from Cornell Tech.

What brought you to New York?
DH: I grew up in Madrid, Spain, a place where the positive attitude towards life and the most incredible food make it a beautiful place to visit and live in. Unfortunately, during the 2008 economic crisis, it became evident to many recent highschoolers that Spain’s job market was headed towards a pretty bad state. Those who were fortunate to leave to other countries did so, and I was one of them. I came to New York to complete my undergraduate studies in mathematics at NYU and haven’t been able to leave this amazing city since.

How do you get to your office?
DH: Bike/e-board when warm, ferry otherwise. I love boating to work!

Where do you get your favorite pizza slice?
DH: Best Pizza in Williamsburg is by far the best.

Where do you get your favorite bagel?
Dh: Bagelsmith on Bedford Avenue.

What is the best New York waterfront?
DH: Williamsburg and Domino Park, no doubt. Well, to be fair, DUMBO is pretty nice too.

What’s your favorite New York building?
DH: The Met — it’s like traveling to a different time and place.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
DH: La Colombe on Lafayette and East 4th St. Great coffee, not too much noise, and nice to walk around the area.

What’s the craziest thing that’s happened to you in NYC?
DH: Hurricane Sandy: living on candles, tuna cans, and walking several blocks to charge my phone and get service.

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ONETHREE BIOTECH

What does your company do?
OneThree Biotech co-founder and CEO Neel S. Madhukar: At OneThree Biotech we’re redesigning drug discovery through biology-driven AI. By combining machine learning/AI with new experimental techniques, it’s now possible to identify scientific insights that otherwise may have been missed and therefore identify new potential medicines more accurately and efficiently than previously was possible.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
NM: The biotech scene in NYC is super interesting and growing at an amazing pace. I view it as a hybrid of the life sciences and deep tech — like a mix of what you’d get in Boston and Silicon Valley, which makes it a great spot for OneThree (a hybrid tech/biotech company). The density of great schools (Cornell, Columbia, NYU) and hospitals in NYC also makes it a great place for scientific innovation!

Your website clearly states your values as a company, including being “a little crazy” to go after big ideas. Why is that important to you as a growing company?
NM: We’re working to change the status quo of an industry that is pretty conservative (pharma), and the only way we’re going to be able to do this is by trying things no one has tried before. Also after doing the same thing for so long, it’s easy to get trapped in an echo chamber unless someone is willing to challenge you or offer a “crazy” counterpoint. So to do this we want to encourage an atmosphere where people feel free to think (and go after) any crazy ideas. I’d almost always prefer to have tried something big and have it not work than to have never tried at all.

You’ve discussed how your shift from pursuing a career as a physician to entering the tech world, ultimately earning a PhD in computational biology, was a personal one after your grandfather’s passing. How does that drive your company’s mission going forward?
NM: I think this is best captured by our first value: “Be Caring – Care about patients. They're who we're doing this for”. When you work in early stage science (where you’re often still many years away from working directly with any patients), you can forget how your work actually affects the world around you. But in my mind, there’s no better motivator than knowing that if we do our job well and produce good science, then we have the opportunity to help a lot of people. I got into this field because I felt helpless when my grandfather was diagnosed and there was nothing anyone could really do to help him. And my story isn’t even that unique. I’ve met so many passionate, amazing people who are just looking for some way to stop this from happening to anyone else in the future. That’s what we’re trying to build at OneThree.

How has the support from Cornell Tech helped build your company?
NM: I can’t say how valuable it’s been to have Cornell Tech believe in OneThree when it was barely just an idea. When I first joined, I was immediately part of a community that understood the challenges of building a business and were willing to roll up the sleeves and help. The startup scene in NYC has seen tremendous growth over the last few years, and Cornell Tech was a huge help in helping OneThree get more ingrained into it.

 What brought you to New York?
NM: I first moved to NYC from Tennessee in 2013 for grad school at Weill Cornell (where OneThree was formed).

How do you get to your office?
NM: We have a dog friendly office so I’ve been walking to work with my dog May. Though I will probably switch to the subway (N, W, or R) once it gets a bit chillier.

Where do you get your favorite pizza slice?
NM: More for nostalgia reasons than anything else, but I love Lunetta on the Upper East Side. It was my go-to late night spot all throughout grad school.

Where do you get your favorite bagel?
NM: Tompkins Square Bagels.

What is the best New York waterfront?
NM: The view from Gantry Plaza State Park in Long Island City is gorgeous. 

What’s your favorite New York building?
NM: Probably the Chrysler Building, because I could see it out of the window of my first NYC apartment. 

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
NM: Any Thai restaurant with a good lunch special.

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PILOTA

What does your company do?
Pilota co-founder and CEO Saniya Shah: We protect travelers against flight disruptions. With our machine learning algorithms, we predict flight delays and cancellations ahead of time. Using this data, we help travelers avoid these disruptions by proactively rebooking them on a new flight to their destination for free.

Why did you found your company in NYC?
SS: Our team met here in NYC at Cornell Tech. While working on our company in school, we realized that this city has so many communities, resources, and events for startups. After graduation, we decided to stay in NYC to continue building our startup because of the support for tech startups that is available here.

Often when travelers are hit with flight disruptions, they take to social media to air their frustrations. How has feedback from frequent flyers informed Pilota’s mission? 
SS: This feedback was actually one of the reasons Pilota's core mission is to provide proactive protection to travelers. These travelers expect to be kept updated and informed about their flights, especially if they are frequent flyers of the airline. They also expect to be taken care of by their airline, which unfortunately is not always the case. Pilota aims to relieve this frustration by not only providing real-time data and the probability of disruption to their upcoming flight but also proactively and automatically protecting them in the case of a disruption. With Pilota, they can stay updated about their upcoming flight and have peace of mind knowing that even if their flight is disrupted, they will be taken care of by Pilota.

You have worked on ventures from virtual choreography to green technology. What motivates you to be an entrepreneur?
SS: Finding new solutions to problems is what inspires me to become an entrepreneur, but knowing that these solutions can actually help solve real-world problems is what motivates me every day to build these solutions.

Your company site notes how your team consists of explorers. What has been your favorite travel experience?
SS: Through the MBA program, I had the opportunity to travel to Japan last winter. This experience is one of my favorites because we not only got to explore all the amazing sights of Japan but we also got a chance to experience the startup and business culture of Japan through company visits. We visited all types of companies, from small startups in an incubator to large advertising firms like Dentsu, and it was interesting to see how our startup and company culture in the U.S. compares and contrasts to Japan's.

How has the support from Cornell Tech helped build your company?
SS: Cornell Tech’s startup studio program helped us better understand how to build our company. They have helped us connect with the greater NYC startup and venture community and have even brought in experienced startup founders and VCs to share their past experiences with us. They continue to support us each day as we develop and grow our company.

What’s the best part of being based on Roosevelt Island?
SS: By being on Roosevelt Island, we get a great balance of all that NYC has to offer and the serenity of Roosevelt Island. The city is only one train stop away and we get the peace, quiet and amazing views of NYC from the island.

What brought you to New York?
SS: I moved here from Boston to attend the Tech MBA program at Cornell Tech, which is actually where I met my co-founders.

How do you get to your office?
SS: Our office is on Roosevelt Island so I actually get to take the tram to work every day!

Where do you get your favorite pizza slice?
SS: Rocky's Pizzeria.

Where do you get your favorite bagel? 
SS: Bagels & Co.

What is the best New York waterfront?
SS: Roosevelt Island, of course!

What’s your favorite New York building? 
SS: Flatiron Building.

What’s the best place in New York for a coffee or lunch meeting?
SS: Le Pain Quotidien.


Author and Editor: Kelly Zegers
All illustrations by Elly Rodgers

New York, NY USA by lev radiShutterstock.com