Columbia Engineering Launches New Columbia-Dream Sports AI Innovation Center

New $10M center will support faculty research awards, student fellowships, a seminar series, and other collaborative activities to advance research at the intersection of AI, ML, and sports tech.

Jun 04 2024 | By Holly Evarts
Sports AI Innovation center

Pictured at the center's launch event, front row: Dream Sports CEO and co-founder Harsh Jain (left) and Columbia Enginering Dean Shih-Fu Chang; back row from left to right: Vishal Misra, Navin Agarwal, Kevin Freitas, Anantha Sundararajan, Amit Sharma, and Bhavit Sheth (Credit: Timothy Lee/Columbia Engineering)

Columbia Engineering Dean Shih-Fu Chang and Dream Sports CEO and co-founder Harsh Jain (BUS‘14) announced the launch of the Columbia-Dream Sports AI Innovation Center that will significantly advance research and workforce development at the intersection of artificial intelligence (AI), machine learning (ML), and sports tech. The five-year, $10 million center will leverage the School’s deep strengths in AI, ML, and engineering with Dream Sports’ extensive expertise in sports and games technologies.

"AI is a vital strategic area here at Columbia Engineering, and it is the core of much of our groundbreaking research,” Dean Chang said. "The field of sports and games is of enormous interest to a broad and diverse audience, and we are very excited to see where our AI Sports Innovation Center will lead us."

Vishal Misra, professor of computer science and vice dean of computing and AI, will be the Center’s inaugural Faculty Director. He brings a wealth of experience in computer networking and AI -- as a grad student, he co-founded ESPNcricinfo, the wildly popular sports news website exclusively for the game of cricket, and more recently he has founded Ask Here First, a pioneering AI company.

“My journey with Dream Sports has been a long one, starting in 2013 when I helped the company in its early days,” Misra said. “I am delighted that we have now come full circle and that Dream Sports is sponsoring this center, in some sense back to where a lot of it began.”

Sports AI Innovation center

Nilesh Patil (left), lead data scientist with a Columbia PhD student

Commenting on the launch, Harsh Jain, CEO and co-founder, Dream Sports, said, “At Dream Sports, data drives all our decisions. We are thrilled to partner with my alma mater to lead the next phase of innovation for our 220 million user base of sports fans. With Columbia’s renowned research capabilities, faculty, and infrastructure, and our expertise and investments in sports tech, we are confident that the Columbia-Dream Sports AI Innovation Center will help us solve some of the largest problems faced by hundreds of millions of sports fans.”

The Center will support four PhD fellowships and up to $1 million dollars in research funding every year. Faculty research projects will cover a broad range of topics, including causal inference, recommendation systems, core machine and reinforcement learning, optimization techniques, behavioral economics, generative AI, AR/VR systems, and user-interface design. The Center will also organize targeted events and programming for both academic and general audiences.

The Center was born out of a meeting Misra had more than 10 years ago when a young Columbia Business School student knocked on his office door. Harsh Jain was also a cricket fanatic and the CEO of Dream11, a fantasy cricket website he had cofounded in India. He and Misra discovered they had a lot in common and Misra began to “help him in any way I could, making introductions to investors and more.” After those early days when Dream11 was just getting started, Misra signed on formally as an advisor in 2019 and helped grow the data science team from 3 people to over a hundred.

Misra has been working with Dream Sports ever since. Based in Mumbai, Dream Sports is now India’s top sports technology company and a pioneer in fantasy sports technology in India. Founded in 2008 by Jain and Bhavit Sheth, the company serves its community with innovative offerings and is committed to the expansion of the Indian sports ecosystem. Their vision is to “Make Sports Better” through Dream Sports’ brands, which include Dream11, Fancode, DreamSetGo, and Dream Game Studios. These brands provide engagement avenues for fantasy sports, sports content, and commerce, as well as sports travel experiences and merchandising.

The Center has already held a networking event that featured talks from leaders at Columbia Engineering and Dream Sports and gave faculty and researchers from across the University an opportunity to meet with Dream Sports researchers, learn about emerging challenges in AI and sports, explore common interests, and begin to form new research collaborations.

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