A climatetech leader passes the (energy-efficient) torch

Headshot of Pat Sapinsley

Pat Sapinsley is stepping down from her leadership role at the Urban Future Lab after ten years

In 2009, when NYU Tandon (then known as the NYU Polytechnic School of Engineering) joined forces with the New York State Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) to launch an incubator program aimed at nurturing start-ups working to find clean-energy solutions, it made headlines across the city.

That program — NYC ACRE (Accelerator for a Clean & Renewable Economy) — was widely seen as confirmation that cleantech was vital not only for the health of the planet but vital for the city’s economic growth. 

ACRE eventually outgrew its original space on Manhattan’s Varick Street, and in 2014, it moved to Downtown Brooklyn as the flagship program of Tandon’s new Urban Future Lab (UFL), under the leadership of Pat Sapinsley, who brought with her years of experience helping tech companies get off the ground.

Now, after a decade of service to the UFL, Sapinsley is stepping down from her leadership role. She leaves an organization that has helped its startups to raise $2.3 billion in funding, created some 4,000 jobs, and seen an impressive 88% of its graduating start-ups survive — well above the 20% national average.

As we celebrate her tenure (and offer thanks that she’ll remain in an advisory capacity), we’re taking a look back at just a few of the milestones of the past decade:

2014: With the move to Downtown Brooklyn, CleanStart, a professional development program, was launched.

2016: The Urban Future Prize Competition, which awards annual prizes of $100,000, was created, with a focus on themes such as electric grid technologies and building energy efficiency. (The most recent winners include Cadence OneFive and Carbon Collective.)

2018: The Carbon to Value initiative, which attracts participants from around the globe who are developing technologies that capture and convert CO₂ into valuable end products or services.

2022: ACRE portfolio companies raise over $1 billion this year alone and the Urban Future Prize Competition awards its first Climate Justice award to Nos Quedamos, a Bronx-based group doing sustainable development work.

2023: The Offshore Wind Innovation Hub — a coworking community and accelerator program — launches with the support of Equinor and the goal of helping startups to develop new technologies for the global offshore wind industry, making New York City a major locus of wind power, and contributing to New York’s renewable energy targets.

Dean Jelena Kovačević summed up Sapinsley’s time as director: “If the energy Pat has devoted to the UFL during her tenure could be harnessed like electricity,” she wrote, “it would probably be enough to efficiently power the whole city.