Education, Solar Energy, and Student Aid Startups Win Annual Brooklyn Innovation Award

The winners of the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership’s “Make It in Brooklyn” competition: Ilona Wilcox of UrbanEnergy, Tammy Kwan of Cognitive ToyBox, and David Helene of Edquity.

Three Brooklyn startups focused on increasing access to green energy, remote education and student financial aid have “made it.” Or, at the very least, they’re on their way.

That’s according to the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership (DBP), which announced today the winners of its third annual Make It in Brooklyn competition. The awards celebrate innovative businesses based in the borough.

“Despite the difficulties of operating during a public health crisis, many entrepreneurs have forged ahead, leaning on creative and innovative approaches to advance their businesses, create jobs and support Brooklyn’s economy,” said Regina Myer, the Partnership’s President. 

This year’s awards looked to highlight that creativity. 

Unlike in the past, the 2020 awards were conducted entirely online. The Partnership granted awards in three categories, with the winners selected by public vote.

And (drumroll) the winners are:

  • Cognitive ToyBox, which creates applications that help kids with school readiness and uses gamified lessons to assess their progress, won the “Female-Founded Startup of the Year Award.” 
  • The startup Urban Energy, which helps older, multifamily buildings make the transition to solar energy using creative canopies, battery storage and financing solutions, received the “Con Edison Energy Innovator of the Year Award.”
  • And the digital platform Edquity, which helps distribute emergency financial aid and resources to college students in need, won the “Tech for Good – COVID-19 response” award. 

Many of this year’s winners and nominees adapted their work to meet specific needs stemming from the coronavirus crisis. Cognitive ToyBox, for example, released free resources to support remote learning, and Edquity created a COVID College Support digital guide to help students navigate financial emergencies during the pandemic.

In the midst of a crisis that has cooled so much of our economy, it is heartening to see entrepreneurship thriving in Brooklyn, reaffirming our status as one of the nation’s top crucibles for innovation — a reputation reaffirmed by local startups who stepped up to create solutions geared towards responding to the pandemic,” said Jelena Kovačević, Dean at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering and the Partnership’s co-chair. NYU Tandon and Con Edison cosponsored the awards.

The winners each received a $1,000 award and a 3D-printed trophy created by another printing startup, Makelab

Since pandemic restrictions made a traditional award ceremony impossible, the winners provided acceptance videos, which have been compiled here.

“I was born and raised in Brooklyn,” said Edquity founder David Helene in the video. “And to do this work at home makes it truly personal to me.”

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Billy Richling

Billy Richling

Billy Richling is a staff reporter for Bklyner, covering politics, real estate and everything else. He lives in Flatbush, and previously worked as Constituent & Communications Manager for the Times Square Alliance. Talk to him about baseball, buses and bagels.

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