A Landmark Gift for NYU Entrepreneurs

Stern Entrepreneurs challenge
In the last century, NYU alumni have founded and built industry-defining companies including Bloomberg, Def Jam Records, Home Depot, Fairchild Semiconductor, Southwest Airlines, Symbol Technologies, The Renco Group, TransPerfect, and the W. R. Berkley Corporation among many others. Recent years have seen a new burst of innovation from NYU entrepreneurs, whose startups have included Twitter, Foursquare, Pinterest, Seamless, and Etsy.

Now the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship, a venture design studio housed at NYU Stern, has received a $3 million landmark gift from the Rennert family, where the tradition of supporting entrepreneurship at the School remains strong with Ira Rennert (MBA '56) and son, Ari Rennert (BS '01). The gift will create the Rennert Family Prize Fund, a permanent endowment for the Center’s annual 9-month Entrepreneurs Challenge.

"As a family with a decades-long history of supporting NYU Stern, we are excited and proud to continue our meaningful support of the dynamic NYU Entrepreneurs Challenge,” said Ari Rennert.

“The generosity of the Rennert family helps further establish NYU as a school on the forefront of entrepreneurship,” said Dean Raghu Sundaram. “We at NYU Stern are continually impressed by the quality of the innovations that have been developed through the Berkley Center for Entrepreneurship, and the Rennert gift helps ensure more good ideas become reality.”

Stern’s reputation for entrepreneurship is burnished by its outstanding alums—in 2020, Stern ranked fifth among US business schools in venture capital funding raised by school alumni ($1.04 Billion, according to Pitchbook data as of Dec 12, 2020). 

The Entrepreneurs Challenge is the single largest startup program at NYU, functioning as part accelerator and part venture competition. Since 2017 it has drawn more than 750 participants from across campus, including Stern,Tandon, Law, Arts & Sciences, Dentistry, Langone Medical, and Steinhardt. The Challenge has a strong reputation within NYC’s startup ecosystem. Successful serial entrepreneurs, angel investors, venture capitalists, and other industry leaders support the program with their time and frequently invest in teams competing in the program. Over the years, notable mentors and judges have included: William R. Berkley (BS '66), chairman, W. R. Berkley Corporation; Brian Cohen, author and chairman emeritus, New York Angels; Jeffrey Hollender, founder, Seventh Generation; Daniel Katz, founder, Rainforest Alliance; Alan Patricof, co-founder, Greycroft Partners; and Stewart Satter (MBA '82), president of Carnegie Hill Development, who supported the program and served as a judge for many years.

The accelerator phase of the Entrepreneurs Challenge includes skills development boot camps and workshops, plus coaching, prototyping funds, pro bono services, and events, many of which help participants connect with mentors and investors. Selected teams are invited to pitch their projects in one of three tracks of the competition phase. The Challenge culminates in May of each year with a public final session, where students, startup teams, mentors, judges, and VCs come together for the prize awarding ceremony and the networking reception that follows. 

The Rennert family gift will support the newly renamed three competition tracks: the Rennert Family New Venture Prize, the Rennert Family Technology Venture Prize, and the Rennert Family Healthcare and Biomedical Venture Prize. The New Venture Competition is the premier platform for identifying, nurturing, and showcasing entrepreneurial talent at NYU. Challenge alumni have raised $100 million in the last two years alone. Among them are the now-public company Pinterest, sustainable chocolate maker Beyond Good, digital comic distributor Comixology, disappearing-tattoo-ink maker Ephemeral, and MediVis, maker of AR/AI-powered software for surgeons. 

The Technology Venture Competition is the track for those in the NYU community who are forming new startups or growing existing early-stage startups in the fields of information technology, physical and material sciences, and engineering. The Healthcare and Biomedical Venture Competition will provide a path to commercialization for scientists and researchers developing solutions to critical health-related challenges. This includes but is not necessarily limited to innovations in diagnostics, therapeutics, medical devices, omics, and mental health.