April 22, 2013

Panelists: Cornell-Technion Partnership Will Foster Innovation in NYC

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Key players in Cornell NYC Tech said at a panel Sunday that they hope the University’s partnership with the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology will help establish New York City as a center of entrepreneurship.

In October 2011, Cornell announced it would partner with the Technion to create its $2-billion tech campus on Roosevelt Island. Although some professors and students have decried the partnership, questioning what they say is the Technion’s military and political ties, the panelists who spoke Sunday said the Technion is the ideal partner for Cornell in its tech campus venture.

Cornell thought Technion would be a good fit for a partner because the University was “looking for someone who would be complementary, and not a competitor for us,” Provost Kent Fuchs said. “We wanted an international partner who would bring something different.”

Introducing Prof. Craig Gotsman, founding director of the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute, Fuchs said he is “really excited about [Gotsman] being the first director of the [Techinon-Cornell Innovation Institute].”

According to Gotsman, the 2008 financial collapse was a “wake-up call” telling  New York officeholders they needed to diversify the city’s economy. The consensus was that high-tech would be the most effective route to do so, he said.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg said he wanted to turn NYC into the high-tech capital of the world, rivaling Silicon Valley and Israel, and the way to do this would be to “fuel this economy with a strong academic engine,” Gotsman said. “The goal of the tech campus is to elevate New York.”

Gotsman stressed the Technion-Cornell Innovation Institute’s focus on entrepreneurship and innovation. He described how Technion has historically fostered innovation and a “start-up culture” within Israel, making Technion the ideal university to partner with Cornell in its venture to create a tech campus with a heavy emphasis on entrepreneurship, he said.

Gotsman also said the Technion has had an  enormous influence in leading Israel to an economic revolution.

Until about 15 years ago, Israel had an agricultural economy, but the country’s lack of natural resources resulted in a lack of opportunities, according to Gotsman.

However, Israel’s economy was revolutionized after the advent of computers and the Internet, with young Israelis making significant contributions in high-tech fields, he said.

“The Technion is credited as the academic engine behind this growth,” Gotsman said.

The Technion’s campus, which rests on the slope of Mount Carmel with 13,000 students and 600 faculty members, currently has many tech partnerships in Haifa with international companies. The most recent addition to the area, Apple, recently built its first facility outside of the U.S. in Haifa and is interacting closely with students and faculty at Technion, according to Gotsman.

The role of the Cornell NYC Tech and Technion partnership is to foster the same type of entrepreneurial spirit found in Israel in NYC and to introduce this sense of innovation to the City’s tech atmosphere, according to Gotsman.

Cornell NYC Tech is also hiring people who will be specifically dedicated to the mission of entrepreneurship on campus, such as Greg Pass ’97, former Chief Technology Officer of Twitter.

The tech campus will also focus on becoming a world leader in the high–tech industry. According to Michal Lipson, a Cornell Professor of Electrical and Computer Engineering who studied at Technion, both Cornell and the Technion are considered world leaders in many high-tech fields.

“Cornell was, and still is, the world leader in nanotechnology,” Lipson said. “The Technion in the past decade has become a real powerhouse in nanotechnology and technology in general.”

Lipson also described the entrepreneurial spirit promoted at the Technion that the Cornell Tech campus is hoping to replicate.

“When you go to the Technion, you feel the excitement of new ideas being constantly generated,” Lipson said. “At the Technion, there is an atmosphere of incredible drive combined with an incredible sense of warmth — warmth and family life, combined with extreme competition.”

The Cornell Tech Campus will evaluate its progress both through “traditional academic metrics of success,” but it will also focus on its effect on the growth of the New York tech ecosystem, according to Gotsman.

“The number of students who will be entrepreneurs, who establish their own companies, who will have success — the amount of interactions these professors will have with the outside world, the number of patents they will produce will be another metric of success,” Gotsman said.

According to Lipson, there are quantitative metrics that could be defined, but more importantly the institute will measure its success based on the reputation associated with the institute.

“In 10 years, we will have a strong technical reputation at the center,” Lipson said.

Cornell NYC Tech intends to move to Roosevelt Island from its temporay home in Manhattan in 2017. A hospital on Roosevelt Island will be evacuated and demolished, according to Gotsman, with the full buildout of the campus expected to be completed by 2037.

“The campus will be beautiful and very futuristic,” Gotsman said. “All of the buildings will be net-zero.” Net-zero buildings produce all of the energy that they consume and have zero carbon emissions annually.

Though the panel discussed positive impacts of the partnership, Jewish Voice for Peace — a Jewish group in Ithaca that opposes local support of Israel — handed out flyers at the event. According to the flyers, the organization said Cornell’s collaboration with Technion is political because of “Technion’s key role in Israel’s militarism.”

Original Author: Rachel Weber