February 26, 2012

CornellNYC Tech: A Personal Perspective

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New York City’s selection of Cornell to create an applied science and technology campus, in partnership with Technion ­­– Israel Institute of Technology, on Roosevelt Island in New York City is a source of great pride for our university and for the entire worldwide Cornell family. Quite understandably, though, the announcement has also generated questions and, at times, concerns among faculty, staff and students. Some of the more frequent questions are about the financial and programmatic impact of the new campus on our home campus in Ithaca and the choice of the Technion as a partner.

Make no mistake: The new campus in the heart of New York City, which we are calling CornellNYC Tech – Home of the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, will be a fantastic opportunity for Cornell. A desire to expand both our commitment to public engagement and our “footprint” in New York City is stated very clearly in the University’s strategic plan. With CornellNYC Tech we will be able to accomplish these objectives without diverting or draining resources from the Ithaca campus. How can this be?

Overseen by Provost Kent Fuchs, the CornellNYC Tech budget will be tracked separately from the budget of the Ithaca campus. The campus will follow all University policies, such as the capital spending guidelines established during the recession, to ensure that all sources of revenue are identified before construction of a project begins. Funding of Phase One — both capital and operating costs — is largely in place, thanks to The Atlantic Philanthropies and its founding chair Chuck Feeney ’56, who provided an extraordinary $350 million gift for the tech campus.

CornellNYC Tech provides an opportunity to recast our land grant mission in a way that promises to benefit the public — with intensified economic development and the creation of new products and processes. Of course, we will also keep our focus on other aspects of our land grant mission, including agriculture, which continues to be an important part of the New York State economy and is carried out in virtually every part of the state.

Cornell’s footprint in New York City is already substantial. In addition to Weill Cornell Medical College and Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences on the Upper East Side, we have a variety of other programs in the city, including Cornell Cooperative Extension-NYC, the College of Architecture, Art and Planning’s studio and classroom facility in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, an ILR School facility on 34th Street and a financial engineering program in the Wall Street area offered through the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering.

CornellNYC Tech will be unique, however, because it is being designed from the ground up — literally and figuratively — to link the creation of advanced technology with business and entrepreneurship in both its research and its educational programs. In higher education, we have recognized for decades the potential of business-higher education partnerships. Those partnerships will be an integral part of what the new campus is and does.

For New York City, the tech campus is a way to diversify the economy through high-tech innovation and entrepreneurship. Long a leader in financial services, as well as media, fashion, health care and the trades, New York is poised to become the world’s premier city for high-tech business creation and development.

The city’s analysts predict that the tech campus will help create up to 20,000 construction jobs and up to 8,000 permanent jobs. In time, it is expected to generate nearly 600 spin-off companies — creating up to an additional 30,000 permanent jobs. That translates into more than $23 billion in economic activity over the next three decades as well as $1.4 billion in tax revenues for the city. And an economically healthy city contributes to an economically healthy New York State.

We are fortunate to have the Technion as a partner on our new campus. The Technion is an intellectual powerhouse: Three of Israel’s 10 Nobel Prize winners are graduates of the Technion. Last October, the Nobel Prize in Chemistry went to Dr. Dan Shechtman, a professor of material science at the Technion, who also earned all three of his degrees there. Today, more than 70 percent of Technion graduates are employed in the tech sector and Technion graduates head half of the 121 Israeli companies on the NASDAQ. The Technion brings a level of expertise in technology transfer to existing industry that is unmatched in the world.

Cornell and the Technion will collaborate on research and education through the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute. Faculty will be hired specifically for the new campus, and there will be opportunities for faculty from the Ithaca campus to do research and teach at the tech campus. There will be a number of degree options: Once the programs are accredited by the State of New York, students at the tech campus will be able to earn graduate degrees from Cornell, the Technion or a dual Cornell/Technion Master of Applied Science degree with a unique emphasis on the application of sciences, entrepreneurship and management. While the tech campus will not offer undergraduate degrees, undergraduates will have opportunities to pursue research projects and internships there.

Our partnership with the Technion in this new venture is based on our complementary academic expertise and strengths and our shared vision for a campus that will help transform New York City into a world hub of innovation and technology commercialization. From its inception nearly 150 years ago, Cornell and its faculty have had many agreements and working relationships with academic institutions around the world. These collaborations are important to our mission of teaching, discovery and engagement, and we encourage them even in countries where some of our faculty, students, staff and alumni may have significant disagreements with the policies of the governments. Time and again, the knowledge-sharing and real-world solutions that spring from these relationships benefit the peoples of many countries, including our own, and in the long run contribute to the betterment of our global community. In this collaboration, as with all our collaborations, we will adhere to our academic values and practices. I am proud to be working with colleagues at the Technion.

There will also be more opportunities for Cornell’s alumni in New York City and beyond. Over the years many graduates of our university have turned ideas and inventions into thriving businesses. In the past five years alone, Cornell alumni have created over 2,600 companies — employing over 34,000 people and raising over $10.6 billion in new capital. We expect an even higher rate of company creation, thanks to the tech campus’ focus on technology innovation and entrepreneurship. Some 2,500 alumni have already expressed an interest in mentoring student projects connected to the new campus and in making investments in companies started by students and faculty there.

It is important to note as well that entrepreneurship and economic development, which are very much alive and well here in Ithaca, will also benefit as a result of the visibility and relationships created by the new campus. Between FY2007 and FY2011, Cornell research efforts helped launch 34 companies — 26 of them within New York State. Twenty-four of those companies were launched as a result of intellectual property from Ithaca faculty, students and staff. And 16 of those companies have remained in the greater Ithaca area, contributing to the local economy. The McGovern Family Center for Venture Development in the Life Sciences, which welcomed Glycobia, Inc. as its first corporate client last month, will serve as an incubator for University spin-off companies in the life sciences and add to the Ithaca campus’ stature as a powerhouse of innovation and entrepreneurship. The new campus is already adding to this momentum — in the few short weeks since the campus was announced, we have received a number of inquiries about working with Cornell on research projects and other activities that will be based in Ithaca.

As CornellNYC Tech – Home of the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute raises Cornell’s visibility worldwide, all of Cornell — and all Cornellians — stand to benefit.

David J. Skorton is president of Cornell University. He may be reached at david.s[email protected]. From David appears bi-monthly this semester.

Original Author: David J. Skorton