At the start of 2017, multinational engineering firm AECOM (named by Fortune Magazine as one of World’s Most Admired Companies for three straight years 2015-2017, #156 on the 2016 Fortune 500, $17.4 billion revenue in 2016) launched the A-Lab program to accelerate the commercialization of innovations and promote greater collaboration between AECOM researchers and university students.  Administered by AECOM Ventures, the A-Lab includes a business plan competition in which teams composed of AECOM researchers and university business students compete for AECOM funds to bring innovations to market.

Participants from around the world submitted 722 innovations to this competition, and in March AECOM Ventures announced 25 semifinalists – four of which were teams formed by eight NJIT MBA and master's students focused on sustainable technology and led by Martin Tuchman School of Management Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurship Cesar Bandera: MBA students Komal Dangi and Jonathan Jorda (improving transportation efficiency through Big Data analysis of rail and road data); MBA student Marelis Bernal and MS in Business student Wai Chan (processing coal ash waste to extract rare-earth metals and strengthen concrete); MS in Mechanical and Industrial Engineering student Subash Mannanal and MBA student Parth Dudeja (quantum cascade lasers for environmental monitoring); and MBA students James Colonias and Shivani Patel (metropolitan transportation management).

Of these 25 semifinalist teams, AECOM Ventures has selected 10 finalists including three of the NJIT teams. AECOM Ventures is now investing $50,000 in each team to prototype their innovation, and in July will award $1 million to the team with the best prototype. In addition, all eight NJIT students participating in the A-Lab program received the Dean’s Award for Competitive Achievement at the Martin Tuchman School of Management awards ceremony May 12.

“The stellar performance of our NJIT students in the A-Lab program shows how well prepared they are for the international market, and demonstrates how they excel in technology, business, and social responsibility,” said Bandera.  Subash Mannanal added, “The biggest take-way for me was, no matter how complex the idea sounds and how niche the market is, you can always navigate your way through.” James Colonias, who has his own entrepreneurial aspirations, said, “I benefited by learning about a new industry and collaborating with the inventor, my professor, my student partner and the AECOM Ventures team. This experience will prove fruitful as I am currently raising funds for my new financial services firm. I recommend any student with the opportunity to participate in a future AECOM Ventures project to take full advantage of this incredible opportunity.”