Cornell will partner with The Technion – Israel Institute of Technology in its bid to win New York City’s competition for a new applied science and engineering campus, the University announced Tuesday.
The Technion has a history of commercializing new technology and sparking start-up companies in Israel.
“The Technion is the driving force behind the miracle of Israel’s technology economy,” President David Skorton said in a statement.
The Technion will be a “programmatic partner” with Cornell, according to Provost Kent Fuchs. Cornell will own the physical campus, but “a significant part of that campus will be what we’re calling The Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute,” he said.
TCII will offer dual degrees and will be a “50-50 collaboration” between the two universities, Cornell said in a statement. The degrees “will focus on master’s students who want to commercialize and start new companies,” Fuchs said.
Faculty from both Cornell and the Technion will conduct teaching and research in TCII, he said.
The tech campus will also include programs outside TCII that will be run only by Cornell, Fuchs said. The campus will offer Cornell master’s degrees in fields such as electrical engineering and information science.
Fuchs insisted that Cornell’s partnership with the Technion was not a response to the recently-announced collaboration between Stanford — widely seen as Cornell’s chief rival in the tech campus competition — and the City College of New York.
Instead, The Technion’s history of sparking start-up technology companies made it an attractive partner for Cornell even before the Stanford-CCNY collaboration was announced, Fuchs said.
“[The Technion is] really good at commercializing technology and educating students who will go start companies,” he said. “If you compare us to Stanford, that is the one area where Stanford has a stronger track record, and so Technion adds that to our portfolio.”
Cornell is competing against more than 20 other universities for a chance to build an engineering and technology graduate school in New York City. Cornell’s proposed campus would be built on Roosevelt Island on land provided by the city. Additionally, the city is offering $100 million to the winner for infrastructure improvements.
New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he hopes the tech campus will allow the city to someday rival Silicon Valley.
New York City is expected to announce the winner by the end of the calendar year.
If it wins the competition, Cornell plans to open the campus in the fall semester. It will initially be housed in leased space or existing Cornell buildings until the permanent campus on Roosevelt Island is constructed.
The campus will be built in three phases over 30 years, Fuchs said. When completed, the campus will include more than 2 million square feet of space, and it will accommodate nearly 2,000 graduate students and 250 faculty members, the University said in a press release.
As Oct. 28 — the deadline set by the city for submissions of campus proposals — approaches, Cornell administrators emphasized the University’s advantages over its rivals.
President Skorton highlighted the experience that Cornell, with its medical school on the Upper East Side, already has with working in the city.
“We know how to do capital projects in New York City. We are building a billion-dollar project between First [Avenue] and York [Avenue] on 69th [Street],” he said. “We understand how to work with the city, zoning, all that kind of stuff, and we’ve done it; we’re doing it — it’s not just conversation.”
Observers of the competition say Cornell’s proposal is tailored more closely to the specifics of New York’s economy, while Stanford’s plan seeks to repeat the university’s success in Silicon Valley.
Cornell’s proposal calls for a campus composed of four research hubs focused on “mobile social interaction; intelligent, trustworthy services; technologies for a healthier life; and smart technologies for the built environment,” Fuchs said in August.
The hubs are based on Cornell’s “initial best guess as to some areas where New York City could have a competitive advantage,” Skorton said.
In an interview earlier this month, when Stanford was rumored to be partnering with the City University of New York, Provost Fuchs acknowledged that CUNY would add a local element to Stanford’s proposal.
“We just don’t need that,” he said. “We’re not partnering with anybody in New York City.”
While CCNY may fill a gap in Stanford’s application, the Technion appears to strengthen Cornell’s position, too.
In its application, Stanford is expected to emphasize its experience transferring academic research into commercial enterprises. Silicon Valley — which Bloomberg hopes New York will eventually eclipse — developed next door to Stanford’s Palo Alto campus.
“We know how to get young people involved in start-ups,” Stanford’s president, John Hennessy, told The New York Times in an article published Monday. “Cornell’s disadvantage is all its start-ups put together are smaller than Google.”
Fuchs said he disputes that claim. But regardless, he said Cornell chose the Technion in large part because of its experience with start-up technology companies.
“Companies headed by Technion graduates employ 85 percent of Israel’s technical workforce,” a Cornell press release stated. Technion graduates run 59 of Israel’s 121 companies listed on the NASDAQ, a stock exchange that includes many technology companies.
The Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute will take advantage of Technion’s experience with commercializing technology, Fuchs said. The institute will focus on teaching business management, entrepreneurship and the technology necessary for future business development, he said.
Besides Technion’s experience with transferring technology into the business world, Fuchs said it added other valuable elements to Cornell’s proposal.
“We wanted a university that was international because we believe that brings a new dimension to New York City that isn’t available currently,” he said.
Since Technion is not based in New York City, its main campus also will not compete against this tech campus.
“They won’t be stealing our students or our faculty,” Fuchs said.
Technion’s president expressed enthusiasm for his university’s partnership with Cornell.
“We are very proud of the many strengths we bring to this endeavor, and we are excited to be a partner with another of the world’s great research universities,” Technion President Peretz Lavie said, according to a Cornell press release.
Several members of Cornell’s Board of Trustees also expressed their excitement for the project after the board unanimously endorsed the University’s proposal at an Oct. 12 meeting.
“I have not seen this level of enthusiasm by any action taken by this board in the nine years I’ve been on it,” Bob Harrison ’76, who will become chair of the board in January, said in a University statement. “I’m proud to have been part of what I think is a historic decision.”
“Today is an extraordinary day for Cornell University — not just for 2011 but for the next 150 years,” Skorton said after the board voted to endorse the proposal.
In addition to the benefits the tech campus could bring to Cornell, Skorton said he is personally interested in the idea.
“This isn’t something that all of a sudden I came up with as an interest,” he said in an interview last month, citing his experience at the University of Iowa overseeing a business incubator, a research park and the university’s intellectual property office. “This is, for me, a realization of something I think higher ed should be doing.”
“However this turns out, whether we win or don’t win, Michael Bloomberg has a fabulous vision here,” he said.