When David Mahfouda founded Bandwagon, a ride-sharing company that connects taxi passengers leaving from the same location, he knew his idea was golden. It made sense for New Yorkers — the intuitive app saves riders time and money — and New York City — it shrinks taxi lines and helps support city cabs that have taken a hit since the rise of Uber and Lyft. But a prickly question remained: How to grow his business and introduce it to the masses?
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The answer, for Mahfouda, was the Urban Future Lab at NYU's Tandon School of Engineering, a business incubator that focuses on clean tech and city-based startups. As a tenant/member in the two-year program, he’s had the luxury of refining his concept with expert mentors.
"Having mentorship in office is just really helpful,” says Mahfouda. “It’s just really useful to turn to someone else who’s just a little further along than you are, and ask their advice.”
After Bandwagon tested well in places where taxi passengers tend to congregate — airports, conference centers — the company was ready to go to the next level. This summer, Bandwagon synched up with e-hail app Arro. In the fall, the partnership will allow taxi riders to pool rides and split fares in yellow and green cabs.
Mahfouda credits much of his success to being part of Urban Future Lab. “It’s really gratifying to be able to see how far you’ve come by helping other people in the community.”
The future of business
We’ve all seen the “Shark Tank” success stories that make launching a business look easy. The reality, of course, is far more complex.
That’s where business incubators like NYU’s come in. Think of it as a bike with removable training wheels: They fuse the supportive structure of a business incubator with an accelerator model, where companies have to hustle to hit specific milestones every six months. Currently, NYU’s Tandon incubators house about 50 companies between three spaces (Urban Future Lab, Data Future Lab and Digital Future Lab), each devoted to a different type of innovation.
Interested startups go through a rigorous application process and are reviewed by current companies in the incubator. It’s all part of their goal to have companies come together to help solve one another’s problems, explains Steven Kuyan, NYU Tandon’s managing director of incubators and entrepreneurship.
“We try to find companies that are solving real fundamental problems with real solutions,” he says.