The Bet on Academic Entrepreneurship for the Economy of New York City

One of the most fascinating events unfolding this year in academic entrepreneurship land has been Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s challenge to universities with leading engineering programs to create an applied science campus on the soil of New York City.  Many agree with me in that this will be the mark that Michael Bloomberg leaves on New York City. He’ll be remembered most for this particular development, which he is betting will positively impact and diversify the economy of New York City in the long run.  He’s posing a challenge to Silicon Valley, Route 128 in Boston, the Research Triangle in North Carolina, Seattle and Austin, currently the leading technology innovation regions of the United States, roughly in that order.  New York City is realistically positioned to do just that, having recently surpassed Boston as the No. 2 tech hub.   Harking back to the days of the land grant, when the government gave land to universities in order to develop research and teaching programmes for the betterment of agriculture, Bloomberg has promised to give prime real estate in New York City to universities for the growth of the third wave, the knoweledge revolution. On top of this real estate, the mayor has promised $100 million gift for infrastructure development as well.  Truly this is a grande and bold effort on the Mayor’s part, and something that hasn’t been done on this scale for 100 years. But the key ingrediant to make this gift produce fruit in the long run will be academic entrepreneurship.

The project has been dubbed “New York City Tech Campus” and moved extremely fast, New York City-style.  The word to universities was informally spread in the beginning of the year, an expression of interest call in the spring, the formal call published in the summer, and the deadline for submissions is in the autumn — October 28th, 2011 to be exact — and the decision will be made by the first day of Winter in december.  It is reported that some 26 plus universities plan to submit a proposal out of the 27 that submitted an expression of interest.  Two of the most high profile universities to submit proposals will be Stanford University, my former employer, and Cornell University, my alma matter.  So I follow this story with great interest for that reason as well as the intervention aspects for academic entrepreneurship. Both Cornell and Stanford will most likely propose an additional $1 billion in additional investment, which will presumably be raised from their alumni. Already I have received a petition to sign as well as a survey from Cornell. The survey asked about my entrepreneurship and venture capital experience, and was quite detailed as I was required to fill out pages and pages of forms related to companies I’d started and firms I’d invested in as a venture capitalist.  Clearly the activities and networks of alumni, including company creation and investments, will be a selling point for both universities.  Mayor Bloomberg’s challenge has pitted Stanford and Cornell in an interesting sort of competitive arena. which I think can only be good for Cornell, whether or not it wins. It has opened up a lot of discourse about academic entrepreneurship amongst both students and faculty, has called for reflection, and may ultimately lead to both changes in policy and attitude, and perhaps the search for other tech campus locations should Cornell lose the bid. Stanford, on the other hand, a more conservative university in terms of expanding new campus locations globally,  is reflecting on its role and purpose as a university in the American as well as international context.  Its bid seems to be more controversial on its far-away California campus than on Cornell’s, which is built on top of the New York land grant and just a 4 hour drive from New York City, where its Medical School and other distance campuses are located.

Intially, New York City was going to limit the Tech Campus to just one winner. But as I’ve thought all along, why not have a few?  Why not give land to more than just one University?  This is now under discussion, which makes the project even more exciting.   Currently Bloomberg has asked universities to propose for either the Roosevelt Island or Governors Island or in the Brooklyn Navy Yard.  An estimated 18 proposals will come from 26 universities from accross the world, and The Academic Entrepreneur would take pleasure in seeing 3 of these awarded for the three different locations. Maybe both Cornell and Stanford would be reunited in New York City, as it was Cornellians who launch and ran Stanford in the beginning.  Perhaps some private firms could also pitch in to the cause through donations, such as Apple, which is sitting on $76 billion in cash. There are more than a few iPads, iPhones, and Macbook Airs being sold in New  York City.

Other universities bidding for proposals include Columbia, NYU, CMU, (from my hometown of Pittsburgh which has recently “shaken up the race” with its innovative bid), and RPI, one of my favorites whose entrepreneurship faculty was so kind to teach me about academic entrepreneurship for my MBA research project on university incubation . The Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Israel will submit a bid as well, in what could make for an interesting international campus or collaboration. Cornell and Stanford’s proposals seem to center around developing graduate-level programs for engineering students, who will lead the way for the technology transfer out of the institution and into society. This population is expected to fulfill the role of academic entrepreneur, with some additonal research professor participation, as a few bandits make their way out, and others play consultant, advisory board member, and chief scientist roles as they remain employed by the university.

Here are a list of Universities that are intending to submit bids:

  • Åbo Akadmi University, Finland
  • Amity University, India
  • Carnegie Mellon University with Steiner Studios
  • Cornell University
  • Columbia University and the City University of New York
  • The Cooper Union
  • École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, Switzerland
  • Indian Institute of Technology Bombay, India
  • Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology, Korea
  • New York University, Carnegie Mellon, the City University of New York, the University of Toronto, and IBM
  • The New York Genome Center, with Albert Einstein College of Medicine, Columbia University Medical Center, Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, New York University, Rockefeller University, and the Jackson Laboratory
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
  • Stanford University
  • The Stevens Institute of Technology
  • Technion-Israel Institute of Technology, Israel
  • The University of Chicago
  • The University of Warwick, United Kingdom

The Academic Entrepreneur will be following this story as it unfolds. Some of the interesting questions and explorations will surround the proposed models for technology transfer and academic entrepreneurship submitted by the universities. We’ll hope to be able to review these proposals ourselves and drill into them for a deeper level of reporting than the mainstream media will provide.

Another question is really a challenge for mayors and governments in other cities  — why not do the same as Bloomberg has done?  Might this spark other city managers to do the same, that is, give land and resources to universities to expand applied education programs for the purpose of new venture creation through academic entrepreneurship?  Trends are often started in New York City as we know.  This could lead to a needed kick for the knowledge economy.

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